MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're kicking off the New Year by taking stock. And with less than a week to go until the start of Virginia's 2012 legislative session, it's a perfect time to take stock of an issue that never seems to go away in the Common Wealth, how to find more funding for roads, rails and highways or anything else that helps Virginians get where they need to go. And that is the topic of our regular transportation segment, From A to B.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
WAMU's Jonathan Wilson is here to talk about what we can expect in transportation during the upcoming legislative session and beyond. All right. So Jonathan, where should we start?
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Well, let's start with a word that many residents have probably never heard before, unless you're a transportation or a legislative walk, the word is devolution.
Now -- that's right. Like, evolution, but think the opposite of evolution.
What that means is, you know, that the Virginia Department of Transportation maintains and controls a lot of the local roads around here. When we have snow storm, they have to take care of that. Well, a lot of people are unsatisfied with VDOT's performance and VDOT is, of course, under-funded. We've been talking about that for years. Solution, make counties handle road maintenance. Now, it's not the first time that we've talked about this.
Fairfax talks about it nearly every year, but George Mason University was commissioned to do a study about it this year so discussions are getting more serious. Now, listen to VDOT commissioner Greg Whirley talk about it.
MR. GREG WHIRLEY
It's something that's on a table, we have to consider it. You know -- you know, we can't -- in terms of the Common Wealth and the funding, it's just difficult, based up on the funding we have to do all things. So we're going to have to pick a few things and do them well.
Now, even though some local leaders agree that counties could do a better job than VDOT at snow plowing and taking care of roads, they're not going to get behind the idea without more funding from Richmond. In fact, bring up devolution and Republicans and Democrats in Northern Virginia are actually on the same side. We're about to hear from Jeff McKay, a Democrat from Fairfax and Corey Stewart, a very conservative Republican from Prince William County, talk about this issue.
MR. JEFF MCKAY
It's like the state bought a brand new car, drove it for a 100,000 miles, never changed the oil and now are dropping off the keys at the Fairfax County government center. I mean, we have a broken infrastructure system. If we were taking on something that was already in good condition, then I think you're dealing with a different issue.
MR. COREY STEWART
If the general assembly and the governor push devolution, I.E. devolving the road maintenance to the localities, it will cause a massive tax increase all over Northern Virginia, not just Prince William, but also Loudoun, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, all of us will be hit by probably a 10 to 15 percent increase in our tax bills.
Those are two who don't agree on much, but as it stands, they're standing shoulder to shoulder when it comes to fighting devolution.
So devolution. And I got to say, I love that word. Devolution, it seems to be an interesting part of the transportation puzzle. But I know there's also a proposal from the governor to use more sales tax money on transportation. Where does that fit into the 2012 picture?
Well, of course, if he uses more sales tax money for transportation, that would take money away from other areas so education could be in danger. Some people will be against that. But it's still unclear how this is all going to play out. The state senate is going to be deadlocked 20/20 between Republicans and Democrats. On the surface, that might make it impossible or seemingly impossible to reach a compromise, but not every decision will be partisan. And some transportation issues are regional and not necessarily controversial.
That means the 20/20 split and that possible tie-breaking vote from Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling will be out of play. And for some contentious issues, there are fuzzier restrictions on when the Lieutenant Governor is allowed to vote. Here's Bob Gibson, director of the Sorensen Institute, talking about those rules.
MR. BOB GIBSON
In the past, it's been given that the Lieutenant Governor cannot vote on a budget, but that doesn't mean he can't vote on things that affect the budget. So there will be areas, such as transportation funding, where some key votes could come to a tie that the Lieutenant Governor might be asked to break and he might try to break those ties.
So it will be a delicate dance in the Senate this year and in this case, delicate does not necessarily mean pretty.
Indeed. So when it comes to major transportation developments we should be keeping an eye on in the near future, what would you say Northern Virginians should be anticipating?
Well, here -- nothing new, HOT lanes, HOT lanes, HOT lanes. We've got the Capital Beltway HOT lanes we're going to be finishing up and running, maybe, by the end of the year. There's a lot of skepticism about whether those HOT lanes will actually help traffic in the area. And now, we've got I-95 is going to get HOT lanes after that. We'll also have to keep a close eye on traffic around Mark Center and out near Fort Belvoir, two areas that are seeing major increases in personnel because of the Army's BRAC reorganization.
Last thing, Governor McDonnell has gone to great pains to get more control of regional transportation boards. That includes the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority and WMATA, the board that oversees Metro, will have to keep an eye on how he tries to exert more influence on how those two bodies operate.
Well, Jonathan Wilson, thank you so much for navigating us through the maze that is transportation politics in Virginia.
And we want to know, if you often find yourself sitting in Virginia gridlock, what do you think state or local leaders could or should do to improve your commute? You can reach us firstname.lastname@example.org.
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