More Money for a New HRTA

14 10 2009

I think it is agreed by everyone that 86 years is too long to wait to finish our roads. The first attempt at the HRTA was to utilize the following taxes/fees:

  • $10 automobile inspection fee
  • 5 percent tax on automobile repairs
  • Grantor’s tax of 40 cents for every $100 of assessed value when selling a home
  • Motor vehicle rental tax of 2 percent
  • One-time vehicle registration fee of 1 percent
  • Annual vehicle registration fee of $10
  • 2 percent gas tax

The hardest thing to think about is what you can charge for without making people feel put out or overwhelmed. I think that any fee/tax needs to benefit those who drive cars that wear lightly on the roads and cost those with heavier vehicles more. Virginia should raise overall registration fees for vehicles. Right now, there is only an $11 dollar difference in fee cost for registering a small car ($38.75) versus a a heavy truck (7,500 GVW – $49.75). Compare this to someplace like D.C., where the same comparison shows that a small car costs $72 and a similarly sized truck costs $300. Don’t get me wrong, if VA raised our rates that high I think a revolution would be necessary, but we should go higher. These rates would be applied statewide. Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia’s collected fees would go to our respective Authorities. The rest of the state’s collections would go right into the capital budget of VDOT. While we are re-evaluating fees, we should consider a discount for fuel economy. I was thinking 30 mpg would be a good start. This would encourage people to buy more fuel efficient cars which are usually lighter and wear less on the roads.

The next source of revenue is one which makes most people cringe. I am talking about the gas tax. Nobody wants to pay more for gas. Interestingly, those that oppose it the most are usually the same people that either drive gas-guzzlers or drive hours each way for their daily commute. I know that it will be tough. For me, for you, for everyone. We need to raise the money. I think an additional 5 cents would be a good start. It would put VA right around the national average (we are below it now) and well below the national maximum. If we had raised the rate when the prices started going down, the effect would have been near unnoticed.

The next touchy subject that nobody wants to talk about but most kind of know in the back of their minds that they would be beneficial in the long run: tolls. Hampton Roads has a number of proposed Public/Private Partnerships brewing right now. Each of them has something in common. Tolls. If our area could fund more road projects like the Chesapeake Expressway, we might get further. For those of you that may not know, the CE was funded by a loan from VDOT and by bonds, both of which are repayed through tolls. These tolls don’t need to be high. They can be simple 5 or 10 cent tolls on heavily traveled thoroughfares. A toll as low as 5 cents would only cost the average commuter $1 per month. As low as this seems, a 5-cent toll on, hypothetically, the I-64/264 interchange, could generate $6 million per year. Or a 20-cent toll on the Midtown Tunnel, which would generate $5 million/year. A 5-cent toll on the HRBT, the Midtown, the Downtown, the High-Rise, and the MMBT could generate a combined $7 million per year. All of these are hypothetical of course, but if we looked at small tolls that wouldn’t hurt anybody but would collectively raise enough money to matter, we might be able to get somewhere. After our projects are built and paid for, we could keep the tolls low (around $.05) and perhaps only toll in one direction, so that we can continue to pay for maintenance. All of these tolls would be collected completely electronically and could be billed monthly or paid online.

All of these proposals are hypothetical. They are just a sample of what we should do. We can no longer rely on state or federal money to pay for our roads. While I find that deplorable on multiple other levels, we have to keep thinking about our future. Remember: No Transportation = No Economy = No Jobs. Our roads are as important as water and electricity.


A New Hampton Roads Transportation Authority

13 10 2009

The HRTA was created as an effort by the General Assembly to give Hampton Roads what it so desperately needs: a dedicated funding source for major highway construction. However woefully inadequate this funding was, it was a start. Using the latest cost estimates (and including the HRBT), there are an estimated $14.6 billion worth of “high priority” road projects in Hampton Roads. The HRTA would have raised an estimated $170 million per year. It stand to reason then, that without outside help, the total amounts would not be covered until the year 2095. By then, of course, we will have reverted back to farms and bartering because of a lack of connectivity.So we have tow problems. First, how can it collect money and second, how can it collect more money.

The reason the initiative failed was due to the lack of research by the GA. They should have known that a non-elected body could not tax. There are two possible solutions to breath life back into the HRTA. The first is that the GA could impose the fees and taxes and then earmark them to be devoted to the HRTA. The GA, however, being made up mostly of those that lack the testicular fortitude of a flea, refuse to take leadership of anything above cashing their paychecks. The second and slightly more plausible solution would be to create an HRTA board that we actually got to elect. If each city’s residents got to elect the representative to serve on the board, then theoretically, it would be constitutionally acceptable for it to levy taxes. The problem with this, however, is that the board might deteriorate into a bunch of whiny kids wanting to get the most for their city. I think a practical solution would involve making sure that the mission plan of the board is written clearly enough to make it impossible for them force one issue over another. They would also need both an end strategy and a process to get other projects added to the end of the list.

The second issue is how would they collect more money. I will save that for the next post.