I have sent the following letter to the Governor and Leadership of the General Assembly regarding the Transportation Special Session.
I have been tracking the recent debate regarding transportation with great interest. I have heard plans from Republicans, Democrats and a variety of other groups. While there is certainly no shortage of plans, it seems to me that the General Assembly is headed towards adjournment without a solution. I believe this is a grave mistake that is simply unacceptable to our citizens.
While I no longer have a vote as a member of the Senate, I believe my past service gives me a unique perspective on this issue. It is my firm belief that a solution can be found. I am writing to offer my thoughts on how we can achieve it.
As I said, doing nothing is not an option. So is raising taxes. Several years ago, I did vote to add the sales tax to the wholesale price of gas to fund transportation. I distinctly remember gas being $1.70 a gallon when I cast that vote. $4 a gallon is a bit different. Regional Transportation Authorities seemed like a good compromise, but now clearly raise serious Constitutional issues. Plans like HB 3202 and 6055 only serve to “Balkanize” the State, dividing us into regions and pitting us against each other. I firmly oppose bills like HB 6055 currently being considered.
My plan divides our roads into three categories: Local roads, Federal interstates, and secondary roads. Each of these road types has their own unique challenges and demands and they should have their own funding source and structure.
All responsibility for local roads should be shifted to our localities, as is already the case with our cities. Our localities are in the best position to know what their needs are and how best to address them.
Each city and county would continue receiving their proportionate share of the car tax relief program. However, moving forward, this money could only be used for transportation needs. All money generated by the car tax locally would be required to be used for local transportation. VDOT could be a supplier of resources and labor, but priorities and funding decisions are set by the localities.
Due to this change, localities may feel that they need additional revenue sources to meet their transportation demands. If this is the case, the locality can submit a request to the General Assembly and these requests should be considered.
I believe this approach is the most fair and equitable approach to solving our local transportation problems. If a fast growing area like Loudoun County needs additional money for their local roads, then the citizens of Loudoun should pay for them.
I propose creating a transportation fund dedicated solely to our Federal interstates. All federal highway money and future offshore drilling lease revenue would flow into this fund. Should it be determined that available revenue is not sufficient to meet the costs of construction and maintenance, tolls can be used to fill the gap. An application applying for tolls on our interstates should be made to the Federal government with the commitment to keep Federal money, toll revenue and drilling lease revenue in the Federal interstate fund.
I am not calling for a uniform placement of tolls on all interstates. Each interstate, even sections of each interstate, should be examined individually. If a new truck climbing lane is needed on I-81, tolls could be placed in that area to pay for it. There is no need for drivers of the entire interstate to pay for that single geographical improvement. Technology can be used to adjust these tolls where necessary. Out of state drivers are more likely to use our interstates and tolls will ensure that they are paying for use of our roads.
The State would continue to build and maintain our secondary roads using money from the transportation trust fund. Without the burden of our interstate highways and local roads, it is my belief that the State has the financial capacity to meet these demands without the need for additional revenue.
I know first hand how complicated this issue is. It is my intent to offer a transportation solution that does not raise statewide taxes but addresses the very real and serious problems we face. I hope you will consider my proposal as the debate continues.
I look forward to talking with you soon.
J. Brandon Bell