Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is usually quick to point out the state’s transportation achievements during his administration, but he indicated Wednesday that he is not yet content with the results.
Speaking in Tysons Corner at the opening of the governor’s annual transportation conference, McDonnell challenged state legislators to find at least $500 million per year in new revenues to invest in transportation and to phase out transfers of construction dollars into the maintenance fund by 2019.
“This is the time and this is the year that a solution needs to be found,” McDonnell said, saying he would encourage legislators to stay in Richmond as long as it takes to reach an agreement.
The governor, whose term ends next year, is not yet sharing any ideas of his own about how to achieve the bipartisan compromise that has eluded Virginia governors and legislators for the last decade.
McDonnell said he will detail his proposals over the next few weeks. He also urged the business community to lobby the General Assembly in support of new transportation dollars.
Virginia’s long-struggling road construction fund has now reached a point where it cannot fund any new secondary road construction. Due to declining gas tax revenues and the decreased purchasing power of those dollars, since the tax has not been adjusted since 1986, more and more of the state’s road construction dollars have been shifted to cover growing road maintenance costs.
“What used to be the state’s secondary road program has been zeroed out for the foreseeable future,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large).
That lack of funding is acutely felt at the local level, when county supervisors can’t even fund small projects like adding turn lanes. Bulova and other mayors and county chairs in the state’s “urban crescent” — essentially Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads — are working together to make their case to McDonnell and legislators that the need for new transportation dollars has reached critical levels.
“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,” the group wrote in a September letter.
In 2011, McDonnell convinced legislators to invest $4 billion in transportation, mostly through the use of bonds, but that effort was a one-time stopgap to keep some construction projects moving.
“While we are making some progress ... there are many more areas of critical need,” McDonnell said.