Kathryn Watson | Virginia Statehouse News
ALEXANDRIA — Virginians are on a road to nowhere—a congested and crumbling road, so it may take some time to get there.
This week, CNBC dropped Virginia from its prestigious first-place pedestal to third place in its annual ranking of “America’s Top States for Business,” in part because the state now claims “some of the country’s toughest commutes” and “perpetually clogged highways.”
In the transportation category, Virginia plunged from 10th to 33rd place.
But so far there’s been no clarion call for change, except for one.
John Jagger, operations director for the Northern Virginia Tea Party, said the solution is simple: Start with privatizing education and ending all public transportation. (Think controversial Silver Line Metro.)
“Shut it down,” Jagger said. “The state shouldn’t do anything with public transportation. Get out of the way. Let people figure out what they want to drive and how they want to transport themselves. The less they (the state) do, the more efficient the transportation will be.”
But he didn’t stop there.
“If the education community was competitive as opposed to a local government monopoly, there would be more money for roads, and the overall cost of state governance would go down,” Jagger said.
Terry Rephann, a regional economist at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, said drivers should be paying the price to fix the transportation problem.
He said the state’s gas tax — the main source of funding for primary and secondary roads in the state — should be pegged to inflation. It’s been sitting at 17.5 cents a gallon since 1986.
“Nobody seems to want to tackle that problem because they don’t want to be seen as raising taxes,” Rephann said.
He also said drivers on the most congested roadways need to pay higher tolls when traveling at peak hours.
“There has to be a behavioral change as well as an infrastructure change,” he said.
Barry DuVal, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said he expects more talk before solutions are offered.
“None of our policy development team is looking at cutting spending in one area of the budget in order to shift it to transportation,” DuVal told Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau. “… We think there are ways to grow the economy and use some of that growth for transportation funding.”
The statewide chamber will form a new transportation committee this year that will make suggestions to the General Assembly.
CNBC, which ranked the 50 states in 51 criteria in 10 categories, gave first and second place to Texas and Utah, respectively. Virginia has taken home the golden medal three times out of six since the first CNBC study in 2007. This year, Virginia’s cost of doing business and proximity to debt-laden Washington, D.C., contributed to the decline.
DuVal said the situation is only growing more serious — and solutions must be found or businesses may hit the road for good.
“It impacts the competitiveness of the commonwealth in commerce for individual business, for the efficiency and effectiveness of moving people and goods,” he said. “And other states that Virginia competes with … will and do in fact utilize congestion in Virginia as one of the reasons not to do business in Virginia.”
Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, refused to answer questions about exactly where road and highway infrastructure falls in the governor’s list of priorities. Instead, he pointed to McDonnell’s $4 billion transportation package of 2011. That package — nearly $3 billion of which rode on bond money — is supposed to support about 900 backlogged projects over three years.
“The governor is committed to building upon the historic investments in transportation made during this administration,” Caldwell said in an emailed statement. “After years of disinvestment, Gov. McDonnell’s 2011 transportation funding package put the most new funding into roads and rail in the state in a generation.”
By the numbers
- 1 — Northern Virginia and the greater D.C. region’s congestion ranking in the nation, according to a 2011 Texas A&M study
- 3 — The place total transportation ($4.5 billion) takes in the Commonwealth’s 2012 funding priorities, behind education (first at $15 billion) and health and human services (second at $11.7 billion)
- 33 — Virginia’s transportation ranking in the nation, according to CNBC
- $3.8 billion — Amount in state’s 2013 budget for all highway and road construction and maintenance