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Kaine Sets Transportation Goals

Last year, when Gov. Tim Kaine offered the biggest transportation program for Virginia in two decades, he bounced off a brick wall of opposition from Republicans in the House of Delegates.

This morning, he told a receptive audience of Northern Virginia's business and civic leaders in Herndon that he's going to take another run at the wall: "I like hard stuff." This time, though, the run probably will take him through the state's elections in November, when his fellow Democrats will run in part on a platform of transportation improvements in their effort to take control of the House and Senate.

Still, Kaine said he was hopeful of success in the General Assembly session that starts in the middle of this month.
He says he wants three things: to improve the performance of the state's transportation department, raise more money for maintenance and new projects and allow government to link land use and transportation planning. And without all three ingredients in the pot, he said, it won't really be soup.

There's real evidence of progress on the first goal, which is largely within the executive's control. The Virginia Department of Transportation is consolidating its maintenance facilities to make operations more efficient and save money. The workforce will be reduced by 1,000.

The second goal is more problematic. While just about everyone in state government talks about a transportation crisis, which sounds very sympathetic, there are fewer who will acknowledge that the problem is so big and the consequences of failure so long-lasting that the government is going to have to spend a lot of money on it.

Kaine says he doesn't want a general tax increase, or an increase in the gas tax to pay for maintenance and construction. The big one he wants is to raise the sales tax on autos from 3 to 5 percent. Right now, most things you buy in Virginia come with a 5 percent sales tax. Cars are an exception. Kaine says tax everything the same and raise more money for transportation services.

He also wants to make the penalties for reckless driving more expensive. Lastly, he'd increase auto registration fees. The $29.50 fee should go up by $15, he said. In 2010, it would go up again to $49.50.

He figures all that would raise more than $800 million a year. Then he'd throw in half of the state's budget surplus each year -- as long as there is a surplus.

The last of the three parts would give government the ability to control development based on whether local roads are adequate. Local governments would have the power to use VDOT's traffic impact statements in their zoning decisions. Meanwhile, the state would get more of a say about what sorts of subdivision streets it has to accept into the road network it must maintain. The new streets must be created in a way to mitigate congestion rather than contribute to it.

What do you think? The part that resonates most strongly with me is his statement that no one element gets travelers where they need to be. You can't just reform VDOT, you can't just spend money, and you can't just reject development proposals.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 4, 2007; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

I don't think that this year will be any different from any other year that Richmond has screwed us up in the north over...

Don't get your hopes up for any help from the commonwealth, we are only a red headed step child to them...

Posted by: Woodbridgeboy | January 4, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

The Governor still does not get it. He talks about reforming how VDoT constructs and maintains projects but says nothing about how those projects are chosen or designed. His own press release points out that VDoT already completes 90 percent of its projects on time and under budget. he fails to address VDoT's preference for large, over engineered projects rather than taking the time to identify simple inexpensive fixes. Bringing in the Springfield Interchange and Wilson bridge within budget is commendable but anyone who drives in Northern Virginia could easily identify 20-30 smaller projects that would cumulatively reduce conjestion much more than either or both of these mega projects at a fraction of the cost. We need to get past the impulse to simply throw money at this problem and think about it more intelligently. Once that happens, it will be much easier to generate support for revenue increases if they are needed.

Posted by: Woodbridge Va | January 4, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Increasing fines on "reckless driving" concerns me because of the arbitrary way Virginia defines "reckless driving" as 20 mph over the speed limit, or any speed in excess of 80 mph regardless of the speed limit. I've driven on any number of roads in Virginia on which one or both of these things was perfectly safe. It's more of the typical PR effort in taking something that on its surface sounds like something everyone agrees with (reckless driving being bad) and then milking it as a cash cow. If "reckless driving" really meant "driving with utter disregard for the safety of others," then fine, but the Powers That Be know that there's a far smaller population who drive like that than there is a population of people who go over the speed limit. I mean, really, does any intelligent person believe for one second that 55 mph is the maximum safe speed on the Beltway? (I submit that 55 is an unsafe speed on most Interstates because it is dangerously slow.)

Raising the gas tax, and using it strictly for road improvements, makes more sense to me. I hate paying taxes as much as anyone else, but raising the gas tax makes more sense than raising traffic fines that stem from bogus and unenforceable laws.

Posted by: Rich | January 4, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I would rather see a tax increase then turning the VA state police into tax collectors with badges.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 4, 2007 8:36 PM | Report abuse

VDOT itself is a boon-doggle. All this talk about reform, etc is just more political speak from those running the state... and this includes the governor. There are many better ways to spend the current crop of funds that go to Virginia, than to just blindly raise fees and taxes so more money comes into the state.

Also another thing that I have noticed out west of NOVA on my commutes is s-l-o-w progress of any project that is worked. If the work was more efficient, the projects would be done faster and with less funding. The fact that most of these projects are reported to be finished on time and under budget tells me that the contractors & VDOT sandbag their project estimates and build in a lot of fluff that they can claim as a savings for the tax collectors. As a project Mgr for a federal defense contractor... I would be raked over the coals by federal auditing agencies if my projects that this kind of fluffy track record.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that politicians and VDOT officials will make the right moves and the policy will end up being tax the public and spend away. What guarantees are there that these new taxes will only be spent on transportation and not go into another social funding barrel?

Posted by: Gainsville kitty | January 4, 2007 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Won't this sales tax on cars just make people buy their cars out of state?

Posted by: M | January 5, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

M: Won't this sales tax on cars just make people buy their cars out of state?
You are right. But people would still have to pay taxes, fees and other charges if they went out of state. And another thing, who would want to waste their time, energy and money going out of state to buy a car, truck or van to save money on taxes when your traveling out of state to buy a car?

Posted by: unknown | January 5, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Assuming Virginia works the same as Maryland, if someone buys their car out of state, they'd still have to pay the difference b/t that state's tax and Virginia's state tax when they sought to register their car in VA. That means their tax savings would be $0 and they would have gone to more hassle to buy their car.

Personally, I think increasing the auto sales tax, registration fees, etc. are a perfect solution to funding transportation. VA's registration fees are currently much lower than Maryland's. I would also like to see some sort of commuter tax (paid if you live beyond a certain distance from where you work, travel a "congested" route and drive on a regular basis - this would encourage telecommuting and living closer to where you work).

Finally, the notion of planning transportation and growth at the same time is a superb one. The notion that a local goverment should have sole discretion regarding growth is increasingly outdated; these decisions need to made on a regional level with a full understanding of their impact on traffic, environmental concerns and other infrastructure needs in the surrounding areas. I'm glad Kaine is pushing so hard for these ideas.

Posted by: Baltimore | January 5, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

That should be a perfect PARTIAL solution to funding transportation. Clearly there is more money needed than these endeavors can raise alone.

Posted by: Baltimore | January 5, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

VA already has fee's on car sales that MD doesn't have (the $195 fee). Increasing the reckless driving fine is ridiculous because of how the law is now (over 80). FYI - driving 75-80 is safe on most highways (they are engineered for travel at 75+). Plus VA cops will never account for the 5-10% error in radar guns, so a ticket for 83 that could really be 75 is always 83. At least in MD they use to allow some leeway. Lastly, increasing the registration fee is silly. The fact that we have to pay for yearly inspections in VA, annual registration, and $27 for a county sticker are all absurd. How much does it take to administer these programs???

Posted by: bogus | January 5, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

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