Archive for the ‘Virginia’ Category

Politicians Speak Out Against Va. I-95 Tolling Plan

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Va. Governor Bob McDonnell may be full steam ahead on his plan to toll Interstate 95 at the North Carolina border as a way to raise money for infrastructure projects. But at least two of his fellow Republicans are putting on the brakes.

U.S. Senate Candidate George Allen recently announced his opposition to the plan, saying “Southern Virginia already faces significant economic challenges and these tolls could disadvantage job-creating businesses in the region, and the hardworking Virginia families already suffering from skyrocketing fuel costs.”

Just days later, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) fired off his third letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) asking the agency to deny the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) proposal to install a toll on I-95 in Sussex County.

Rep. Forbes emphasized his continued opposition to VDOT’s application, which was filed Aug. 24, saying “it has been made clear that the interests and concerns of Southside Virginians have not been adequately addressed.”

The cacophony of voices opposing the I-95 tolling plan is growing louder by the day.  To date, 20 local governments, eight trade associations, 16 businesses, and thousands of Va. residents have opposed the plan.

We’re glad to see politicians adding their name to the list of those taking a stand against Gov. McDonnell’s plan to toll I-95.  We hope more will do the same.

Dispute Over I-95 Tolls Heats Up

Friday, August 24th, 2012

The dispute over Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to toll Interstate 95 near the North Carolina border is getting hotter.

Dozens of local governments, regional governmental and economic development bodies have now voiced opposition to the plan. And just last week, Emporia’s mayor and a city councilman grilled the governor on statewide radio about plans to toll a rural part of the state that is economically struggling.

Emporia Mayor Samuel Adams and Councilman Jim Saunders told McDonnell on WRVA-AM that instead of harming a rural area of the state with tolls, the state could marginally raise the gasoline tax, unchanged at 17½ cents since 1986, to produce more revenue.

“We could raise about $325 million a year, based on numbers I’ve run, versus $30 (million) to $35 million on the tolls,” Saunders said.

The Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) also came out in opposition to the plan in its recent editorial “Tolls: Mr. Inefficiency.” “The administration is moving forward with a plan to put tolls on I-95 near the North Carolina border,” the Dispatch wrote. “The aim — raising money for transportation — is admirable. The means are not.”

The newspaper also advocated raising the gasoline tax by one penny to generate $50 million a year.

N.C. Unveils Electric Vehicle Charging Station at Rest Area

Friday, January 20th, 2012

North Carolina has installed EV charging stations in rest areas near Burlington on Interstate 40, and at the junction of Interstates 95 and 40.  The state is providing the charging service free of charge due to federal laws prohibiting commercial services at interstate rest areas.  Raleigh-based Praxis Technologies Inc. provided the stations through a grant from the state Commerce Department.  Retailers should be alarmed about the state government providing transportation fuel — in this case, electricity –  paid for with tax dollars.  This is a strategy for state departments of transportation to help make the case that they need to have the ability to start charging for the service, and that the federal ban on rest area commercialization should be overturned.

Anti-Tolling Coalition Thanks Senate EPW for Maintaining Status Quo on Interstate Tolling

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Americans for a Strong National Highway Network (ASNHN) recently thanked the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee for moving a highway transportation funding bill forward without expanding tolling on existing interstate highway infrastructure.

In a letter to Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ASNHN said the United States has greatly benefited from a toll-free interstate system that has made jobs more accessible to workers and enabled economic growth. Tolling highways would impede commerce and send traffic onto less-safe streets, the group said.

The letter also was sent to the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and its ranking member David Vitter (R-La.).

Commercialization Threats Emerge Across the Country

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

With state governments still struggling to balance their budgets, several state lawmakers have eyed rest areas as a potential revenue stream.  In at least four states, legislators have introduced bills examining the possibility of commercializing rest areas, signaling a heightened interest in this issue.  Let’s hope these lawmakers consider the impact of such a policy on local communities and businesses, which would suffer tremendously if commercialization were allowed.

So far in 2010, commercialization bills have been introduced in:

  • Virginia – a state which attracted widespread criticism in 2009 for shutting down 23 rest areas. State representative David Nutter introduced legislation (HJ 126) that, if approved, would study the feasibility of rest area commercialization.
  • Mississippi - similar legislation has been introduced by state Representative John Mayo (HB 374), calling on Mississippi to investigate the prospects of commercialization.
  • Washington - five state senators introduced a bill (SB 6465) allowing full-scale commercialization of rest areas if approved by the federal government.
  • Georgia – six state senators introduced legislation (SR 822) urging the Georgia Department of Transportation to seek a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration allowing retail developments at Interstate highway rest areas. The Chair of the Georgia State Transportation Committee has even said he supports a “yard sale” for the state, selling off any land possible.

We recognize that these are tough economic times. But the ban on commercialized rest areas has been good public policy for over 50 years, fostering intense competition among businesses for the services of interstate motorists. Changing this policy now would serve as an act of desperation to combat the short-term challenges of a down economy.

Coalition Supports Virginia’s Efforts to Reopen Rest Areas

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Earlier this month, Virginia’s recently inaugurated Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that all 19 rest areas in the state that were closed last summer would reopen by mid-April. McDonnell had made reopening the rest areas a top pledge during last year’s campaign. McDonnell’s plan would use reserve funds to reopen the rest areas, while Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton develops a more sustainable plan for operating the facilities over the long term. In confirming this approach, the prospect of commercialization was not discussed as an option.

Prior to McDonnell’s announcement, the Partnership to Save Highway Communities sent a letter to the Governor, offering to assist the new administration in developing ways to preserve the rest areas without resorting to commercializing them. Gov. McDonnell has suggested programs such as an “adopt a rest area” plan or the use of state inmates for maintenance projects, both of which would cut costs to the state without directly competing against private businesses located just off the right of way.

We hope that Virginia can serve a model for other states seeking solutions to keeping their rest areas open without resorting to unfair competition. Our coalition is eager to work with the Virginia Department of Transportation in this endeavor.

LA Times Discusses Commercialization Issue

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

The Los Angeles Times ran this story yesterday regarding the issue of rest area commercialization and its potential impacts on highway-based communities and the motorists they serve. The story presents arguments both for and against commercialization, but ultimately frames the issue by suggesting that commercialization is the only option for keeping rest areas open.

As we have discussed before, even in these difficult economic times, commercialization isn’t the only way to preserve rest areas. Texas for example, is planning to spend $30 million to upgrade their rest areas to make them more attractive to motorists. Texas offers free Wi-Fi hotspots and kiosks that enable local businesses to advertise their services – a win-win for both the state and local communities.

In Virginia, the current epicenter of debate regarding rest areas and commercialization, lawmakers have tried on several occasions to keep the rest areas open, but Virginia Department of Transportation Officials have repeatedly closed the door on any attempts to save them.

The role of highway rest areas in state’s transportation strategy should focus solely on a state’s commitment to the safety of travelers in the state. In the case of Virginia, the commonwealth decided that the 18 closed rest areas were not worth the $9 million it would allegedly cost to keep them open.

The prospects of commercial rest areas are not an either/or proposition. There are plenty of ways to operate these facilities without seeking to unfairly compete with existing businesses that have invested heavily to meet the needs of highway motorists.

Virginia’s Priorities Out of Whack

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Anyone who manages a budget knows that how you spend your cash is all a matter of priorities.

The Commonwealth of Virginia would have us believe that it was unable to find $9 million – the cost to pave just one-half mile of Interstate – in the state transportation budget to keep 19 of its 42 rest areas open.

But a review of budgetary spending clearly shows that Virginia consciously decided that funding those rest areas simply wasn’t a priority.

According to Virginia’s stimulus website, Virginia was awarded $4.8 billion from the $787 billion stimulus passed by Congress in February. Of those funds, Virginia allocated $1 billion for state infrastructure projects, including $123 million for highway projects.

Other states like Texas, in turn, see the value in putting stimulus funds toward new and enhanced rest areas.

The Dallas Morning News reported this week that Texas plans to bid contracts worth $30 million to expand and improve its highway rest areas before year’s end. Texas is funding the new facilities from its share of the stimulus package.

Virginia should follow Texas’ lead, and re-evaluate which expenditures merit making it into the final budget.

Virginia Plays Politics with Rest Area Closures

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Early this morning, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) went through on its plans and began boarding up rest areas across the state. No one thought that this political game of “chicken” would ever go this far.

VDOT first announced its plans to close rest areas in March, a proposal that was met with almost universal opposition from state residents and motorists. Shortly after announcing the closures, both the Governor and Secretary of Transportation said that they could keep the rest areas open…if Congress would allow them to run businesses there. Because the well-reasoned prohibition against rest area commercialization is a federal law, Virginia was able to shift the blame from Richmond to Washington.

Closing the rest areas in Virginia will save the commonwealth $9 million, or 0.25% of Virginia’s entire transportation budget. In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which approves VDOT’s annual budget, tried to save the rest areas by transferring the $9 million from an increase in the paving budget. According to Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, the amendment failed, with VDOT Secretary Pierce Homer casting the deciding vote.

While VDOT has discussed the rest area issue for several months, no one bothered to formally contact the Virginia congressional delegation to request help in their commercialization efforts until last Wednesday - two days before the House Appropriations Committee met to debate the 2010 transportation appropriations bill. Thankfully, the amendment to allow Virginia to commercialize their rest areas failed, but it will undoubtedly resurface in the coming days.

VDOT has had several opportunities to keep the rest areas open, but ultimately decided closing them was worth it in order to bring them closer to their long-time goal of commercializing their rest areas. Commercialization is not the only way to save Virginia’s rest areas – in fact, it will only result in job losses and a downturn in county and municipal taxes. Rest area commercialization will do far more harm than good to the small cities and towns that rely on interstate highway traffic to sustain their communities.

Great Start, Long Fight in Commercialization Battle

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Last week, the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee approved a draft of the House version of the highway bill and the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to consider the bill sometime in July. The initial draft does not address the issue of rest area commercialization, leaving the ban completely intact, marking a great start in framing the issue during the reauthorization process.

However, it’s much too early to celebrate. The states of California, Washington and Oregon are still pushing their agenda to commercialize their rest areas and offer alternative fuels in addition to food and other services. Some in the Senate view this as a way to quickly develop an infrastructure for alternative fuels and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. With virtually no demand for these forms of energy, the costs would be offset by other offerings at the newly commercialized rest areas.

While we’re generally pleased with House version of the highway bill, its chances of passage are far from clear at this point. Instead of a long-term full highway bill reauthorization, the Department of Transportation is advocating for a short-term, 18-month extension to current law with “critical reforms” to keep the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency. DOT hasn’t indicated what those reforms are at this point, but given comments by Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate seems to be leaning towards an extension of the current law. The Obama Administration repeatedly has suggested that some form of privatization should be explored as a revenue source and it isn’t clear what the official Administration position is regarding rest area commercialization.

Budget shortfalls in many states are worsening. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of closing 19 of its 41 rest areas due to funding issues. In a number of public meetings, members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board suggested that commercialization could save the rest areas, and suggested that Virginians should support overturning the ban. Similar funding scenarios are playing out in states across the country, setting the stage for more state agencies to suggest that commercialization is the answer to some of their funding needs.

So as you can see, the battle on this issue has just begun.