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Sunday, March 24, 2013
For nearly three decades, Virginia governors and legislators have tried and failed to fix the growing transportation funding crisis in the commonwealth. As dedicated revenues have stagnated, costs to replace our aging infrastructure have steadily climbed to the point where our state will soon be unable to afford even basic maintenance obligations.
Though legislators recognized this impending crisis many years ago, partisan gridlock created by short-term political calculations and ideological litmus tests stifled consideration of substantive, statewide funding ideas in the General Assembly.
This year, however, thanks to the strong leadership of Gov. Bob McDonnell, Virginia finally has a sustainable, reliable and long-term plan to address this core function of state government. With the support of House Speaker Bill Howell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, Del. Chris Jones, Del. Onzlee Ware and the bipartisan members of the conference committee who encouraged the bill as it passed both chambers, Virginia has made history.
As Moody’s Investors Service pointed out, Virginia has become “the first state to address stagnant gas tax collections that have been increasingly insufficient to meet transportation funding needs, a problem faced by many states as they, consumers and automakers embrace higher fuel-efficiency standards.” This new infrastructure plan, combined with our already low unemployment rate, reassured the bond credit rating firm to assert that the plan was “credit positive” to Virginia’s overall bond rating.
Virginia has a considerable way to go to alleviate the symptoms of its long-overlooked infrastructure crisis. Though Roanoke may not suffer from the same congestion of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, two of the country’s worst regions for traffic (according to a recent Texas A&M University study), we are not without our share of transportation needs. In our region, safety and capacity improvements along Interstate 81, including the much-needed replacement of the north and southbound I-81 bridges over the New River, will allow traffic along this critical highway to flow smoother, faster and safer.
In addition, hundreds of other projects in our region will be jump-started. Most notably, Roanoke will benefit from extended Amtrak train service to the area. The Lynchburg to D.C. route has been one of Amtrak’s most successful lines. Extending this rail service to our region further connects Roanoke and all her residents to not only other regions in Virginia, but also critical centers of commerce and government like New York City and Washington, D.C.
This bill may not be the perfect solution, but without this overhaul of Virginia’s transportation funding, Roanoke and the rest of the commonwealth would have been faced with a steadily crumbling infrastructure and no sustainable mechanism for maintaining either the state highways or other badly needed public transportation systems.
The economic vitality of the commonwealth depends on the strength of our transportation network. In the coming years, future governors and members of the General Assembly will have the opportunity to smooth out the rough edges and improve upon this foundation.
McDonnell and every legislator who supported this historic compromise should be applauded for their hard work, flexibility and steadfast leadership this legislative session. Working together, they crafted a pragmatic and reasonable solution to a serious problem. In doing so, businesses in the Roanoke region and the rest of Virginia will be positioned to create jobs and opportunity for years to come.
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