Maybe We Can All Just Walk

21 12 2008
Re: State Plans $1.3 Billion reduction in Road Funds (Virginian Pilot. December 19, 2008)

So far, this brings the total to $2.6 billion in cuts to transportation. Not just roads but ALL transportation activities. More are possible. They (Transportation Officials) say that this means that many projects will have to be abandoned. Most will be temporarily delayed. These projects are in a variety of modes and locations. Interstates, city streets, mass transit (buses, light rail, commuter rail including the long-proposed high speed rail extensions), airports, and the ports all fall under the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Local Projects that would be affected included the US 17/Steel Bridge/Dominion Blvd project, the I-64/I-264 interchange improvements, and the widening of I-64 in Newport News. While these are the largest near-ready projects in Hampton Roads, there are others that would be impacted. Among these, we have the much anticipated, multi-modal Third Crossing, the much-needed (although unwanted by Willoughby residents) Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel expansion, the ill-conceived Southeastern Parkway, and the Downtown Tunnel improvements. The Martin Luther King Freeway extension is, so far, to remain untouched.
I think that this leaves us with but one choice: Restructure how we take care of our transportation needs. Once again, while we cannot have an unelected taxing Authority work for us, we can change what we have. For all of the closed-minded, change-is-bad types, please look away now.
I propose to redefine the Hampton Roads division of VDOT. First, the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Organization should have a greater say in the new VDOT:HR’s decisions. This influence should be binding. We have a regional planning board for a reason, why should VDOT ignore it? Along with this, the MPO’s soon-to be born Citizen Transportation Advisory Committee (currently waiting approval with the MPO’s new bylaws) should also have a voice within VDOT:HR. Second, the state should fund VDOT:HR’s operations and maintenance budgets, while providing a small share of the construction budget (I am thinking 20-35%). The rest of the construction money should be raised using the same taxes and fees that were approved for use by our defunct Authority. These taxes should be levied by the legislature and earmarked for the region. (If this were implemented state-wide, these fees could be state-wide but required to go to the respective MPOs or, if there is no MPO, to the county, which could use the fees for a slightly wider variety of projects.) In addition to removing the bickering legislature out of the equation, this plan would localize control of transportation projects while retaining the benefit of state-backed funding.
In addition to this, we need to preliminarily plan every and all desired projects and prioritize them. Then, in order of priority, they should be planned completely and be made ready to start construction. This thorough, complete planning, along with having each plan MPO approved, would give Hampton Roads an edge when attempting to acquire federal funding.

While this is a drastic plan (and I am sure would face fierce opposition from those who oppose change), I think that in the long run, it would serve the region well and should be considered.
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22 12 2008
Michael Ragsdale

We need a Public Transit Benefit Area authority (see Pierce Transit Site*)

Long story short: 0.6% of collected sales tax goes directly to transit agency

* note: due to winter weather in Western Washington, link may or may not work

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