If political leaders don't move quickly and set aside partisanship and power struggles, Virginia's highways and related quality of life will face "a catastrophe," a former state transportation commissioner warns. Ray D. Pethtel, now director of the Transportation Policy Center at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, predicts increasingly severe congestion, deteriorating roadways, risk of bridge failures and possible loss of the state's AAA bond rating if lawmakers don't act soon to end a long-running funding crisis. Highway congestion already costs the state severely in several ways, including as a factor in many accidents and fatalities, he writes. With road systems as a key part of state infrastructure, congestion in Virginia's major metropolitan areas is a drag on the economy and quality of life. Compounding the problem is that highway repair and construction costs keep rising, Pethtel adds. Democratic and Republican leaders agree there is a need for about $1 billion a year in new money for transportation, Pethtel writes. But they can't agree on how to raise the money. Opposing any new taxes, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed a variety of funding recommendations. Most of them would require legislative approval and considerable public debate, and in the case of tolls on federal interstate roads, Congressional authorization, Pethtel points out. Action on them is not likely to happen quickly, he predicts. For more immediate action to ease the crisis, Pethtel suggests the General Assembly consider four proposals. Two would require no tax vote and all could be set to receive bipartisan support, he believes. To help end the partisan impasse, Pethtel advocates that the Transportation Accountability Commission established by the General Assembly set out a strategic plan to find alternate revenue sources for the future.
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The Virginia News Letter