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Del. Rust: Transportation – A Solvable Problem

"As much as the word “tax” is decried, Virginia’s transportation system cannot be sustained or improved without additional revenue."

By Delegate Tom Rust (R-86th)

Since Governor McDonnell took office as governor, major investments have been made in Virginia’s transportation infrastructure. There have been approximately $1.8 billion in bonds sold, another $1.2 billion in GARVEE bonds proposed, savings and efficiencies in VDOT of $1.4 billion and creation of the Virginia Infrastructure Bank all of which are moving forward. Major projects in Virginia include the Downtown-Midtown tunnels in Hampton Roads, the I-95 improvements, the I-495 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes, the Route 460 improvements, the Silver Metro Line, all totaling approximately $14 billion in projects. All of this is applied to the Virginia highway system — approximately 126,000 miles — the third largest in the United States, and includes approximately 12,000 bridges. 

Virginia is one of only four states to maintain its secondary roads. Major local funding comes from the motor vehicle fuel tax, the motor vehicle sales and use tax, motor vehicle license fees, and Federal Highway Funds. Motor fuel tax and federal highway funds are a declining revenue source and federal funds are unpredictable. This leads to a situation where even with the Governor’s leadership, transportation is approaching a crisis. 

Northern Virginia, the economic engine of Virginia, has the dubious distinction of being the most congested area in the United States; Hampton Roads is not far behind and getting worse by the day. In recognition of this crisis, the political leaders of all jurisdictions in the ‘golden crescent’ — running from Northern Virginia through Richmond to Hampton Roads - have signed a letter asking the General Assembly to create new long-term sustainable transportation funding for Virginia. As much as the word “tax” is decried, Virginia’s transportation system cannot be sustained or improved without additional revenue. It will take courage and leadership to solve this problem. 

I along with a number of my colleagues in the House and the Senate are prepared to address the problem. Senator Watkins is the Chief Patron of a bill in the Senate, and I will be the chief patron of a similar bill in the House of Delegates to address the issue and, yes, it does increase revenues for transportation. Key components of the bill will extend the general sales and use tax to fuel at the wholesale level, reduce income tax brackets, and remove some tax credits and exemptions from other industries, and dedicate the money to transportation. A second bill which I have introduced uses many of the components of the first bill, but adds an option that each Planning District Commission could raise money specifically for construction within that district. Any money raised in that particular district must be spent in that district and cannot be diverted to another area. Either of these bills, or some combination of them, will address Virginia’s transportation for the foreseeable future. 

Without bold leadership (and with the potential of political backlash against the supporters), Virginia will have no money for secondary road construction by 2017 and there will be no money to have its match for federal funds. Those funds would not be used in Virginia, but would go to other states. Federal funds at this point are a major portion of Virginia’s transportation program. As the adage goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and there is no free solution to our transportation crisis.

Virginia has slipped from No. 1 to No. 3 in its’ ranking of Best Managed states solely due to our lack of financing for infrastructure. We will continue to slip without bold leadership and brave actions such as have been proposed. The lack of infrastructure investment will result in an inability to attract new businesses and the potential loss of existing businesses. 

Investment in transportation will create economic development and will pay for itself over time. It is estimated that construction alone will create approximately 30,000 jobs and will bring an industry forward, which is currently suffering and will continue to suffer. 

These proposals, or similar ones by others, will not be easy to accomplish. We need your help. Please contact your respective legislators and make them aware that you realize we are in a transportation crisis and it cannot be fixed without additional revenue. I welcome any and all other suggestions as to how we can best solve this issue. I want to work to keep Virginia prosperous and welcoming to business and tourists while improving the quality of life for our residents. We can do this by investing in transportation infrastructure now.

[Have an opinion you want to share with the community? Send Letters to the Editor to leslie@patch.com.]

Todd Huse January 17, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Tom, that is not my job, nor am I an expert in the details of the Commonwealth's budget. That is what the legislature is supposed to do. What I do know is that when I submitted a FOIA request for reports produced by VDOT for Highway Commissioner Whirley about the change from a "transactional fee" for EZPass to a "monthly account fee", my request was acknowledged, delayed twice (but promised by a specific date) and then (after the deadline passed) Secretary Connaughton declared the information to be "working papers" not subject to FOIA. Why? All I wanted to see was the numbers they based their decision on, compared to other funding options. Without any legislative oversight or approval, VDOT arbitrarily decided to start charging a "user fee" (or tax) to simply have a device whose sole purpose is to collect "user fees" (or tax/toll). The decision was rubber-stamped by an appointed Highway Commissioner and an appointed CTB, none of which seems to have seen an actual report of revenue/projections for any options other than the "monthly fee". I asked both my State representatives to ask more questions. Del. Rust responded, but also acknowledged that the answers he received were the same "reasons" given to the press and did not include any real data. My other representative has never responded to any message. Del Rust is a great guy, but his letter yesterday was a sales pitch for more taxes, rather than proving that he is scrutinizing existing spending.
Tom Kellner January 17, 2013 at 10:40 PM
Todd, Thanks for the detailed insight of your reply. I accidentally became an “activist” in this transportation thing by looking at the insanity of the Herndon Metro Redevelopment Plan. During the time that I have been associated with this issue, too many people I have spoken with speak in platitudes and refuse to get into the details. It is clear to me now that you are willing to get your hands “dirty.” As far as writing officials and getting no replies, (see my reply to Joe Brewer below) I feel your frustration. I suppose that there is no defense for the indefensible and these officials feel the best solution for these requests is to remain mute. I should think that in your case that your next letter should be to Ken Cuccinelli with all supporting documentation. It would seem there should be some pretty stiff penalties for blowing off a FOIA request. to be cont.
Tom Kellner January 17, 2013 at 10:41 PM
cont. from Tom Kellner In reply to Joe’s question as to what I would suggest, from my vantage point if we tasked our transportation planners to design the absolute worst system conceivable, they could not have come up with anything worse than the Silver Line to Dulles. It promises to be expensive with high fares; stations difficult to get to and from; and with more stops than a pipe organ, that will require rapid acceleration and deceleration at each stop, uncomfortable to ride on. I have heard it from more than one commuter that they will absolutely not ride this thing unless there is no other choice. I am sure that Mr. Rust is correct that we need more tax money, but I am also in agreement that we need much better use of our money than what we have received so far.
Louis Horvath January 17, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Are you people for real? I'm sure there are treatments for paranoia - check it out.
Barbara Glakas January 18, 2013 at 01:35 AM
It doesn’t really matter what Tom tries to do. The greater problem is that Tom is a Republican and his caucus in the House of Delegates is controlled by southern rural legislators who elect a Speaker who will never let us solve this problem here in Northern Virginia. Until there is a change in party control, nothing will happen.

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