The Virginia Senate has just done something their Maryland counteparts have failed to do year after year, decade after decade, since 1992:  Pass legislation providing a significant long-term increase in dedicated transportation funds.  As the story below relates, they have passed a bill indexing their fixed 17.5 cent per gallon gas tax to inflation.  The payoff will be small at first, but will produce significant new revenues over time. 

Maryland, on the other hand, continues to avoid facing the hard, cold reality that their Transportation Trust Fund is now so depleated it can no longer meet even our most basic transportation needs.  With Virginia already well positioned to attract Maryland businesses across the river with lower tax and regulatory hurdles, now they have also shown more resolve in meeting future transportation needs.  The jobs picture in Maryland could get really bad, really fast, if they fail to act this session.

Maryland legislators, are you paying attention?  This is your wake-up call and you need to act now.


Virginia Senate Approves Indexing Gas Tax for Inflation

Virginia’s Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would automatically increase the state’s per-gallon gasoline tax each year at the rate of inflation.

“The state’s gasoline tax has been set at 17.5 cents per gallon since 1986,” The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg reported. “In recent years, repeated attempts to raise the tax, or make it a percentage sales tax, have failed in the House of Delegates.”

The indexation effort is contained in a larger transportation bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. Wagner’s bill proposes using the U.S. Department of Labor’s “producer price index for other nonresidential construction” to annually adjust the fuel tax that supports transportation investment in Virginia.

A fiscal impact statement estimates indexing the tax could generate an additional $7.7 million in 2013, and up to $124 million by 2018.

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Today the 2030 Group released a new study that was conducted jointly by SMTA and the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, to explore how the region sets transportation priorities and what leading experts in the field feel those priorities should be.   The survey was conducted over the past several months through telephone surveys and focus groups with over 40 top transportation professionals from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

 Summary of the Key Findings:

1.      The nation’s most congested region lacks a well-defined short-list of transportation investments that would have the greatest potential to reduce congestion/improve mobility over the next 20 years.

2.      Among transportation professionals, significant consensus exists as to highway and public transit investments that would be the most productive. 

3.      The top-ten projects are listed in the report, including continued investment in Metro System Maintenance and Operations, New Potomac Bridges, and multi-modal projects to add capacity in several key transportation corridors.

4.      The prioritization process should focus heavily on highway and transit investments that do the most to reduce travel times/delays, reduce congestion, and improve transportation network safety and reliability.

5.      Meeting the region’s transportation challenges requires not only selecting/advancing the right priorities, but a new process that is more regional and professional and less parochial, political and ideologically driven.

The number-one priority identified by regional experts:  Invest in current Metro system operations, core capacity and maintenance.  Multi-modal investments to area highways, bridges and new transit lines to better connect regional activity centers and key economic corridors together throughout the region rounded out most of the remaining  top-10 priorities, along with better land-use policies to encourage more transit-oriented development.

This independent study was sponsored by the 2030 Group, an association of business and community leaders working towards greater regional cooperation on long-term planning and economic issues.

Washington Post columnist Robert Thompson’s column Maryland Drivers Face Many Mini-Challenges draws a pretty stark contrast between the levels of major investment in congestion relief taking place in Virginia compared to Maryland.  

Northern Virginia is currently in construction on two multi-billion-dollar “mega projects” — the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport and adding new lane capacity to their portion of the Capital Beltway (I-495) with additional high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes.   Both are being funded with a mix of public and private capital.  Additional capacity expansion projects are also either planned or starting construction in the I-95/395 corridor and the I-66 corridor, and construction is nearing completion on the last phase of the Wilson Bridge replacement project.

Maryland is building the ICC.  That’s about it right now in terms of major capacity improvements at the regional level.  The Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, the much needed widening of I-270 and portions of our side of the Capital Beltway and the American Legion Bridge all are under “study” but those studies keep dragging on and on with no sign of construction in the near term, and no moves yet to ensure that any of them can be funded. 

What we are doing, as Thompson’s column makes clear, is a lot of minor resurfacing and repair projects throughout Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.  These are important, make no mistake, but don’t confuse this list of “mini” projects with actual investments to relieve the chronic congestion that plagues our region.  For that, just look to Virginia.