Elected leaders from localities in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads joined forces calling on Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and other state leaders to address what they described as the critical underfunding of transportation infrastructure throughout the state.
Mayors and chairs from 38 urban crescent localities — including Herndon, Fairfax city, Fairfax County, Falls Church and Vienna — signed a letter sent Sept. 4 to McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), the state Senate and House of Delegate majority and minority party leaders and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Dist. 28).
In the letter, the elected officials said residents were paying the price for the state not funding regions that have driven the state’s economy for years. On average, Richmond commuters spend 20 hours per year in traffic. Hampton Roads drivers spend 34 hours in traffic, while Northern Virginians average 74 hours staring at brake lights each year, the letter said.
“The Urban Crescent’s economic health is vital to the commonwealth, and without new investments in multimodal transportation, each of our regions’ economies will decline, resulting in less revenue available to meet the myriad of Virginia’s needs,” the letter reads. “We believe that the time for action is now, and that inaction is a ‘traffic tax’ on our localities, our residents, our visitors and our businesses through decreased productivity, diminished quality of life, higher fuel costs, higher maintenance costs and increased pollution.”
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova (D-At large) said the letter is not an attack on the governor, but rather a call to action for state leaders.
“It is a longtime crisis. Essentially no new funding has been generated by the General Assembly since Gov. [Gerald L.] Baliles [in 1986],” Bulova said. “A lot has been attempted under governors, both Democrats and Republicans… and we have not been successful at generating that funding.”
Although previous coalitions have attempted to gain transportation solutions through joint advocacy, this year’s Urban Crescent coalition is the largest gathering of elected municipal leaders, Bulova said.
“We are all a consequence of the state’s underfunding of transportation,” Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder said. “Inadequate revenues from the state mean less maintenance money for our roads, less money for transit” and less money for sidewalks and alternative transportation.
The impact of lack of transportation funding has had a domino effect on the Northern Virginia region, elected officials said. If Vienna or Herndon is congested, for example, so is much of western Fairfax County.
“The idea is good because it has finally combined the areas that need congestion relief and transportation money,” Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman said. “It’s time we combine efforts to let the General Assembly know that this is a real concern.”
Vienna residents, she said, are impacted by the construction and growth at Tysons Corner.
Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel agreed, saying, “As far as Herndon’s needs, it’s like the rest of Northern Virginia. We’ve got a lot of traffic. We’ve got a lot of through traffic… We have traffic that comes off the toll road.”
In response to the letter, a spokesman for McDonnell said his boss shares the opinion that transportation investment is vital to the future of the state as a means of attracting jobs and investments.
“That is why he has pushed for significant new investment in our roads and bridges and public private partnerships to advance critical transportation projects around the state,” said Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for McDonnell. “His 2011 transportation package put the most new money into Virginia’s transportation system since 1986. He has also advanced innovative new revenue sources for construction and maintenance such as exploring highway and rest area sponsorships, strategic tolling to dedicate funding to Virginia's most important roads, and dedicating additional surplus funding to transportation. He will continue working with regional and General Assembly leaders to ensure transportation remains a top priority for this state."
The General Assembly is scheduled to begin its 2013 session Jan. 9 in Richmond. So far, there are no plans to hold a special session specifically on transportation funding issues.