The Commonwealth Transportation Board has now spent all of its money – and Hampton Roads was the last winner.
Governor McDonnell assembled $4 billion to fund 900 transportation projects in the 2012–2017 Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP). He was unable to get General Assembly funding to sell the state liquor monopoly and ABC stores, so he went to Plan B. He borrowed $3 billion by issuing bonds – $1.8 billion in Capital Project Revenue (CPR) Bonds, $1.1 billion of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) Bonds, and $283 million for the capitalization of the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank funds (VTIB) – plus assembled another $1 billion from various sources.
It appears that Hampton Roads, not Northern Virginia, just sucked up the last of that $4 billion in transportation funding. The state will spend the remaining $900 million in its transportation checkbook to build a 55-mile long highway between Norfolk and Petersburg, parallel to existing US 460. It will be a toll road, designed primarily to move trucks from the Port of Norfolk to I-95.
As one member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board noted, “This is it for a few more years with no new money coming in…” In musical chairs, when the music stops, some people are left without a seat.
It appears the proposed Tri-County Parkway, connecting US 234 near Gainesville in Prince William County to Route 606 in western Loudoun county, has been left without a chair. Despite claims that it is a done deal, allocating the last of the funding to southeastern Virginia leaves no funding to build a new highway to Dulles. Potential objections from the National Park Service to that “Road to Dulles” may have been overcome and the government approvals may be formalized soon – but the checking account to build anything appears empty.
As one Northern Virginia legislator has noted, “we can’t borrow more without diverting additional General Funds for debt service or coming up with a new source of revenue.” Repeating Gov. McDonnell’s strategy is not an option: the next four governors “will only be able to borrow $50 million/yr — not the $600 million/yr spent by this Administration.”
Former Redskin coach George Allen’s used a future-is-now strategy, trading away draft choices to assemble the veteran Over-the-Hill Gang. Allen’s strategy got the Redskins football team to the Super Bowl, but limited the options for future coaches.
Governor McDonnell has done the same. In one term, he tackled transportation, generated funding, and committed to 900 projects. However, there’s still a transportation wish list (VTrans 2035) with $50 billion of unfunded proposals.
What’s next? Look for a funding crunch, to start. Maintenance of existing roads and bridges built in the last 50 years will suck up even more funding, while fuel-efficient cars will result in lower revenues from the taxes of gas. New tolls on I-95 will cover some maintenance costs, but there is a limit on the willingness of users to pay for more tolls (especially on bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads).
The Washington Post has articulated one solution clearly, in its editorial Raise the Gas Tax. When the General Assembly transfers money from the General Fund to subsidize the transportation budget, Virginia taxpayers pay 100% of the cost. If the gas tax was increased, then out-of-state drivers would be contributing.
Senator Russell Long of Louisiana gets credit for identifying the politically-correct solution: “Don’t tax him. Don’t tax me. Tax that man behind the tree!”