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McDonnell Offers Few Details On Transportation Funding Proposal

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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is hoping to replace some of the transportation construction funding that has gone instead to road maintenance over the past few years.
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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is hoping to replace some of the transportation construction funding that has gone instead to road maintenance over the past few years.

It seems everyone in Virginia agrees the state needs more money for transportation — but no one is willing to say where that funding will come from.

Gov. Bob McDonnell didn't shed much light on the subject this week. During a speech at his annual transportation conference in Fairfax County Wednesday, he  offered no specifics on what he'll ask the General Assembly for in the way of transportation when it reconvenes.

The governor will propose raising an additional $500 million per year to prevent the state from running out of money to build roads by 2017, he said. But he wouldn't address whether that revenue would come from a gas tax increase, although he spoke earlier this month about the possibility of adjusting the gas tax for inflation.

"I'm going to be pretty clear with my friends in the General Assembly that this is the time and this is the year that a solution needs to be found," he said. McDonnell plans to ask lawmakers to stay in session until they find a solution to the state's long-term transportation funding woes, which have been exacerbated by the shifting of road construction funds to road maintenance projects. 

"I don’t think we can wait any longer," McDonnell said. "I don't think I can continue to recruit businesses to Virginia and see the unemployment rate go down unless we are able to get a handle on and provide some long-term solutions this session to that problem."

The governor plans to release details of his transportation funding formula before the General Assembly convenes January 9, 2013. 

"These are plans that take a lot of work to put together," McDonnell explained to reporters after the speech.

 Critics of his administration say additional revenue — such as that from a gas tax increase — should be spent less on new highways and more on transit and fixing current highways like I-66. 

“It's gone to rural highway projects that have very low traffic demand and are not high priorities given the traffic congestion within northern Virginia and Hampton Roads," says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "So they are not targeting the areas of the greatest transportation need." 

New revenues would likely replace money currently being redistributed to highway maintenance from the state's transportation trust fund. Only 15 percent of that fund goes toward transit projects' the rest is earmarked for roadways.

But McDonnell said Wednesday his administration is not neglecting transit and other modes of transportation.

"It's going to be a multi-modal approach. Road, rail, and mass transit, all of those will be beneficiaries of a funding plan," he said.

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