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The 'golden crescent' must not be ignored

January 6, 2013 12:10 am


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--Since Gov. 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, Interstate 95 improvements, the I-495 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, U.S. 460 improvements, the Silver Metro Line, all totaling approximately $14 billion in projects. All is applied to the Virginia highway system--approximately 126,000 miles--the third largest in the U.S., 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, 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; federal funds are unpredictable. Transportation is approaching a crisis.

Northern Virginia--the economic engine of Virginia--has the dubious distinction of being the most congested area in the U.S.; Hampton Roads is not far behind and is getting worse by the day. 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 Senate are prepared to address the problem. Sen. Watkins is chief patron of a bill in the Senate, and I will be 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 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 that I will introduce uses many components of the first bill, adding an option that each Planning District Commission could raise money specifically for construction within that district. Any money raised in a particular district must be spent in that district and cannot be diverted to another area. Either bill, or some combination of them, will address transportation.

Without bold leadership (and with potential 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 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 action. Lack of infrastructure investment will result in an inability to attract new business and potential loss of existing business. 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 bring an industry forward that is suffering and will continue to suffer.

These proposals will not be easy to accomplish. We need your help. Please contact your respective legislators and make them aware that you realize that we are in a transportation crisis and that it cannot be fixed without additional revenue. I welcome any and all suggestions as to how we can best solve this issue. I will 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.

Del. Tom Rust, a Republican, represents the 86th District (parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties) in the Virginia House of Delegates.

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