Opinion

Don’t let awards cloud the issue: Virginia still needs to fix transportation

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

They’ve been pouring in of late, like ants at a summer picnic. One of the “Five Best States to Start a Business” (U.S. News & World Report),  No. 1 for its pro-business environment (Pollina Corporate Real Estate) and, before that, “Best State for Business in America” for three years running, 2006-2008, (Forbes.com.)

While Virginia scores high in many areas, including low taxes, job creation and a skilled work force, let us not be lulled into complacency.  How can we continue as a top-ranked business location when the state cannot find the political will to invest in our highways, bridges and tunnels? 

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Wonder what type of impression would have been made if some corporate executive, looking to locate a company in Virginia, had gotten stuck in the massive traffic jam outside the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel on July 2?  Apparently, a 52-year-old, eight-inch water pipe ruptured, allowing water to pool inside the tunnel, forcing its closure right before the July 4th holiday rush. State officials also closed Interstate 64 for eight hours, delaying thousands of motorists who no doubt put Virginia on their Top 10 list of “States to Avoid.” 

Throughout his nearly four-year term, Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has tried to make headway in finding new revenue for transportation, only to be met with legislative gridlock, particularly among the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. Lawmakers haven’t increased the dedicated funding for transportation since 1986, when they last raised the gasoline tax. 

Now we have a national recession, and the chickens have come home to roost.  Virginia faces a $300 million shortfall for fiscal 2009, and state agencies are once again cutting budgets. The Virginia Department of Transportation laid off 230 workers last month and expects to cut $2.5 billion from a six-year road building plan.  In survival mode, the focus will be on maintaining roads, not improving infrastructure.  Pity the long-distance truckers who will have 18 fewer rest stops along Virginia’s highways after this last round of cuts. Even a one-time infusion of $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money isn’t going to get us out of this hole.

One locality is so frustrated that it wants to take control. According to The Washington Post, Fairfax, the state’s largest and wealthiest county, is considering taking over the maintenance of its roads by becoming a city. As reported by the Post, Fairfax received $28 million in fiscal 2004 from the state for secondary road projects. The figure for this fiscal year?  $240,000. That’s 24 cents for each of the county’s 1 million residents. 

Which may be why Fairfax is itching to get behind the wheel. This county is a job engine for Virginia, recently attracting such brand-name companies as Volkswagen of America and Hilton Hotels.  And who could blame them? Virginia has been in a downhill skid on this issue for way too long. Transportation needs to move front and center in this fall’s gubernatorial and House and Senate races if Virginia really wants to be No. 1.

 

 


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