As the General Assembly convenes its Special Session on transportation, a lot of posturing will take place, and finger pointing will be the game of the day.
However, if the Democrats and Republicans are really interested in building a 21st Century transportation system, embracing the 13-point “Transportation Reform Agenda” described below is a positive way to start that process.
This set of actions and strategies will relieve congestion in key parts of Virginia, repair many of our roads and begin a serious discussion on a long-term transportation blueprint for the state.
(1) Perform a real cost/performance audit of VDOT. The first step in determining how much more money needs to be spent on transportation should be an independent analysis of how current funds are spent. An audit of VDOT would outline cost savings that should be implemented before new money is invested.
(2) Prioritize congestion relief. The General Assembly must make congestion relief the top priority in state transportation spending. Spending criteria should aim to reduce congestion significantly below todays levels.
(3) Change last years law to conform to the Supreme Courts ruling. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the governor was wrong when he rewrote last years law giving unelected regional transportation authorities the right to raise taxes and fees. The General Assembly can remedy this quickly, and $1.5 million a day will flow to transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
(4) Commit to passing a new road maintenance program next year. Road maintenance is a critical need. When Virginia contracted out 250 miles of interstate maintenance to a private company the preliminary numbers indicated that millions of dollars were saved. But no final accounting was made. Before a serious discussion on road maintenance, the General Assembly needs to know how much can be saved from the current road maintenance budget. The numbers are there from this previous contract and should be analyzed.
(5) Adopt the Missouri Bridge Repair Program. The State of Missouri has contracted out to a private company the repair of 800 of its most dangerous bridges. That company agreed to finance the reconstruction or rehabilitation of these bridges over the next five years, and it will be paid back over the next 25 years from a portion of the states federal bridge building funds. Virginia should do the same.
(6) Lease the Dulles Toll Road and build the tunnel under Tysons Corner. The General Assembly should require that the Dulles Toll Road be leased to the private sector and the resulting $1 billion to $1.5 billion used to build the rail tunnel under Tysons Corner. Money could be left over to build a Bus Rapid Transit system to move more commuters in this corridor.
(7) Bring the private sector into a full partnership on transportation. Virginia should expand the use of public private partnerships and urge many additional proposals from qualified companies. Contracts with private companies could be the key to expanding the tunnel crossings in the Hampton Roads area, improving I-81, and other key projects.
(8) Make toll roads the first option for building new roads. Installing tolls on interstate highways would require out-of-state drivers to pay for maintenance. Current technology could give Virginia drivers a discount on tolls or even a free ride.
(9) Encourage double decking main roads. The General Assembly should offer incentives to double deck key road arteries such as Route 7 through Tysons Corner and Route 66 inside the Capital Beltway and other key roads that would reduce congestion.
(10) Explore for gas and oil and use the royalties for transportation. It is irresponsible for our elected officials to refuse to allow Virginia to find and extract gas and oil reserves 50 miles or more off our coast. Billions of dollars in potential royalty payments are available and these new dollars should be used for congestion relief.
(11) Create a long-term “Transportation Blue Print for Virginia. A Blue Ribbon Commission on Virginias Transportation Future should be convened with real experts. The purpose should be to craft a long-term plan focused on relieving congestion, improving commerce and helping the environment. Experts at the Reason Foundation say we could build a congestion- reducing transportation network by 2030 for a cost of only $13 billion. The Commission is key to the future.
(12) Land use and transportation policy needs to be reviewed and updated. Recently, a fascinating transportation report was drafted by Patrick McSweeney, a noted attorney in Richmond. That study should be fully aired to see what parts fit best into a modern congestion-relief effort.
(13) Localities should take on more responsibility for roads. It is long past time for Virginia to turn over to the counties and cities the responsibility of building and maintaining secondary roads. That could be done over 10 years with local neighborhood roads being the first transferred. Transferring primary roads should be the long term goal.
This Transportation Reform Agenda would be a huge step toward resolving the mounting traffic congestion problem that simply must be confronted in the most efficient way possible. Well see what the General Assembly comes up with this week and what parts of this Transportation Reform Agenda are adopted.