How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Weekly Column: Transportation Funding Hearing Comes to Route 1

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of April 5, 2015.
Transportation Funding Hearing Comes to Route 1
Last week, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) held public hearings at the South County Government Center at the request of Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay and  Board Chairman Sharon Bulova.


These deliberations include whether to help fund the $14 million estimate for the initial design and environmental analysis of widening U.S. 1 from Fort Belvoir to Napper Road near the Costco, including reserving space for bus rapid transit to Woodbridge and constructing a sidewalk and multi-use path along the entire length.  It also includes about $60 million for widening U.S. 1 in Prince William County (Featherstone to Mary’s Way and Fraley Boulevard to VA-234).
First, here’s some background. Virginia’s transportation system suffered from a twenty-year funding shortfall, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) “borrowed” maintenance money (paving and bridge reconstruction) so there was something to spend on construction. This is why about 75% of the secondary roads in the 36th Senate District now require paving.   In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation, now law, raising taxes to fund about 20% of our known long-term new construction needs. The bill had statewide and local components.

Statewide Funding Components 
The statewide component repealed the $0.175 gas tax and replaced it with wholesale taxes equal to about a $0.10-0.12/gallon tax, and raised sales taxes on cars from 3% to 4.3%.  
It also raised sales taxes by 0.3% and then diverted $700 million over five years from education, public safety, and higher education to the Transportation Trust Fund to help make up the lost $0.05/gallon. The bill also enacted a new $100 tax on Virginia’s hybrid vehicles which was repealed after I led the fight with Senator Adam Ebbin.
This plugged the statewide maintenance shortfall and funded new paving in the Northern part of the 36th District around Sherwood Hall Lane last year and is why many roads between Sherwood Hall and Collingwood Road will be paved this year. 
Regional Funding Components
The bill also imposed three more taxes Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads only taxes – a 0.7% sales tax, a 3% hotel tax and a “regional congestion relief fee” of about $250 per $100,000 of home value.  I voted against initial versions of this legislation for several reasons, including that it only funded one-fifth of our known needs, it relied on regressive sales taxes to fund roads instead of use taxes, and it also included partially unspecified formulas to make spending decisions, and voted for the bill on final passage with Governor McDonnell’s amendments. 
 
The NVTA’s Process
The NVTA is required to make funding decisions based on two different formulas. One, which originated from a bill called HB599 that we passed in 2011, requires VDOT to focus its spending on projects that reduce congestion and improve homeland security.  The second formula focuses on a number of variables, including economic development and project readiness.
 
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the NVTA rated 36 projects. Under the HB599 formula, the widening of U.S. 1 near Fort Belvoir ranked eighth. However, under the NVTA’s 2020 performance measures, it dropped to #18, which was slightly under the cut for projects recommended for funding this year, while the two Prince William projects held their ground to merit recommendations for funding. 
The Public Hearing
Last week’s public hearing on U.S. 1 drew a larger crowd than the “main” NVTA hearing in central Fairfax County – over 130 citizens – and the message was loud and clear. Our community supports widening U.S. 1 and people has serious concerns about the formulas being used.
I also conducted a robopoll which held that 67% support widening U.S. 1; 13% oppose it. I also posted a petition along with Paul Krizek, candidate for the 44th House of Delegates District.  Over 430 people signed on with comments demanding action. 
 
Future Action 
Moving forward, I am working with local officials and state legislators, including Senator Adam Ebbin, who is on the NVTA Board, to work hard to get all of the U.S. 1 projects included in this round of funding.
We cannot wait any longer for the improvement of U.S. 1 and we are fighting hard to fund it now. 
Please share your views with me at scott@scottsurovell.org.

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