House Republicans Unveil Final Piece of Comprehensive Transportation Plan

RICHMOND, VA –– While many Virginians have demanded a House of Delegates Transportation plan during the first half of the General Assembly Session, Delegate Chris Peace has urged patience. Now after long and sometimes arduous deliberations, House Republicans rolled out their three part plan that addresses the real needs of the Commonwealth. “Good things take time, and we must consider all options. A plan for true and lasting reform needs more consideration than simply raising taxes” said Delegate Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) referring to his desire to see systematic solutions prior to investing the taxpayer’s money. During the first month of the Session, Senate and Executive Branch proposals were offered and included superficial approaches such as increasing taxes and spending without reform measures to ensure that added investment is well placed.

The House Republican plan is comprehensive and reform-based. Delegate Peace and his fellow House members have offered innovative legislative reforms that will overhaul how Virginia addresses infrastructure. Among other things the House plan acknowledges challenges facing local governments and considers them to be the best arbiters of how to manage and plan for road enhancements.

Peace said “I am proud to be a part of such a broad and deliberative approach to addressing Virginia’s transportation challenges through a comprehensive package of legislation that will transform the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and enable the Commonwealth and localities to spend taxpayer resources more efficiently and productively.”

Del. Peace also supports a Constitutional Amendment to protect existing and future revenues dedicated to transportation. To take effect, Peace will introduce the Amendment which must be passed in the 2007 Session and again in 2008 Session before voters can be asked to approve it in November 2008.

Legislation Gives Localities Tools for Infrastructure Planning

The five bills proposed by Delegate Peace and his fellow House Republicans are measures many localities desire to assist them in reasonable decision-making when assessing land use proposals. It also provides them tools to build needed transportation infrastructure. Del. Peace has co-patroned House Bills 1521 and 1104 in the package. HB 1521 promotes better managed growth requiring localities to include road and transportation improvements when preparing their comprehensive plans. Localities will incorporate transportation improvements, including transit, and their costs in the plans they are required to develop and update every five years. HB 1104 expands the present revenue-sharing fund program for counties to include cities and towns as well.

The bill would increase the match limits and total funding, while also allowing any local contribution to take the form of proffers from developers. The effect would be to allow localities to use proffers as their match for local revenue-sharing fund projects, thereby giving localities more input into transportation decisions. The other pieces of the package are House Bills 1513, 1528, and 1506.

“I oppose knee-jerk decision-making. It is true that we need to address crowded highways and secondary road improvements, but there is a better way. The growth management reform advancing through the legislature will assist localities with sensible management tools for fast-growing communities, while also avoiding turning back the clock on the expansion and progress that the private sector has made in Virginia to create such a vibrant and great place to live, work and raise a family,” said Del. Peace.

Endorsed by the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties, the House proposals are aimed at improving the coordination of land use regulation and transportation at the local level. It will help local governments coordinate transportation issues as a part of the land use decisions and work to curb sprawl.

“My neighbors in the 97th District expect their government to find sensible solutions to pressing problems in transportation, which means more than throwing millions or even billions of dollars at VDOT and hoping roads are improved anytime soon,” said Del. Chris Peace. “We need to shift the paradigm about how we approach these issues. Allowing for more local control and imaginative, private-sector solutions help the state address needs without adding to the burdens of taxpaying families.”

A Vision for a 21st Century VDOT

House Republicans offer a comprehensive approach to transform the delivery of transportation services and make VDOT a more responsive and effective agency, these proposals will ensure value for taxpayers, ease growing congestion, provide safer roadways, and guarantee a better quality of life for all Virginians.

Delegate Peace stated “Our package will mean more accountability, more public-private partnerships and leveraging of funds to make scarce taxpayer dollars stretch farther, and more targeted solutions to improve people’s daily commutes and quality of life.”

VDOT Reform Highlights

  • HB 681 and HB 1104 increase the revenue sharing grants to cities, counties and towns for the maintenance, improvement, construction, or reconstruction of local road projects. These bills codify and expand the successful budgetary changes previously championed by House Republicans in the 2005 session in response to the positive implementation from the localities. This program leverages additional funds for transportation from local governments and private developers.
  • HB 671 grants authority to counties, cities and towns to award design-build contracts for local transportation construction projects. It also gives localities an additional innovative procurement tool to more efficiently plan and construct significant local transportation projects with time or cost savings.
  • HB 666 eliminates current limitations on the use of design-build contracts by VDOT. It would allow increased utilization of an innovative procurement process that provides greater efficiency, lower costs and better results in planning and building transportation infrastructure.
  • HB 667 requires the contracting out of all maintenance of the Interstate Highway System. It builds on the current interstate maintenance outsourcing program by allowing the private sector to implement more efficient practices in maintaining Virginia’s 1,118 miles of Interstate roads at a lower cost to taxpayers.
  • HB 676 requires the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner to report on the actions of the Department of Transportation regarding efforts to privatize, outsource and downsize. This bill would instill accountability in VDOT to make greater efforts to examine new approaches to building and maintaining a 21st century transportation system.

Transportation Investment Plan Supporting Innovations & Improvements with No New Taxes

The House plan generates additional funding for transportation projects to ease congestion, increase safety and enhance mobility. The reform and funding proposals represent a fundamental change in the manner in which Virginia plans, funds and builds transportation projects.

“Traffic congestion and poor roads in Virginia has negatively affected quality of life and jeopardizes our continued economic competitiveness and progress,” Peace said. “We should know that just throwing more money at the same failed approaches will not give Virginia the 21st Century system of transportation our citizens want and deserve. Our plan is focused on easing commutes and reducing sprawl in fast-growing communities, while also ensuring the free flow of people and commerce throughout the entire Commonwealth.” The House seeks to fund about $400 million every year, which is roughly equivalent to a 7-8 cent increase in the gas tax. But raising taxes in a time of growing state revenues would be wrong for taxpaying families and wrong for Virginia’s economic future. The House Republican plan is the only option on the table with the scope required to deliver better results with the added benefit of not depending on a tax hike.

In addition to the more than $4.4 billion in annual funding already dedicated to Virginia transportation, the House Republican plan would provide more than $1.2 billion in added revenues for transportation in the biennial budget now under consideration (or over $2.0 billion in four years). Key investment features of the plan include:

  • Dedicating one third of insurance premium tax revenues from autos to transportation.
  • Utilizing of a portion of recordation taxes for transportation, with the recognition that the major traffic congestion problems are located in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
  • Fulfilling commitment to 2003 Federal Reimbursement Anticipation Notes (FRAN) debt service.
  • Enforcing civil penalties on habitually dangerous drivers – those most likely to cause traffic accidents estimated to be responsible for approximately one quarter of all congestion on Virginia roads.
  • Targeting a creative combination of continuing and prioritized spending of surplus General Fund dollars for specific projects statewide.

The House Republican plan will expedite specific highway and transit projects and elevate transportation projects to the same level as other capital projects for localities throughout the Commonwealth. The plan will:

  • Direct one-time expenditure of surplus General Fund dollars to targeted, high-impact improvement projects already identified by the Commonwealth Transportation Board and localities.
  • Create new revolving bond funds for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads modeled after the successful Route 58 Corridor Development Program benefiting Southside and Southwest Virginia.
  • Expand transit capital program support to provide a 50% match on federal transit capital purchases.
  • Support better transportation asset management and protection of higher costs for highway maintenance.
  • Meet existing commitments and previously created programs, such as
    • Expanding the state and local partnership through popular revenue-sharing program
    • Strengthening Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund jump-starting PPTA projects
    • Creating Local Congestion Mitigation Fund that targets high-growth, high-congestion areas

“House Republicans are united and resolved that the fiscal debate not overshadow the transportation policy debate that’s going on this Session,” concluded Speaker Howell. “We understand that our transportation challenges are not ones out of which Virginia can pave its way or spend its way. Only a balanced, comprehensive approach will prevent us from being in the same situation 10 or 20 years from now that we find ourselves in today. Our plan stands alone in exceeding that standard. It is the right way forward for Virginia transportation.”