Last month, I joined with colleagues from the Urban Crescent, the densely populated eastern region of Virginia running from Northern Virginia through Richmond to Hampton Roads, on a letter to the Governor and our General Assembly members expressing our commitment to addressing Virginia’s transportation challenges.
The Urban Crescent region comprises 68 percent of Virginia’s population and contains 72 percent of Virginia’s jobs. The region generates $322 billion of the State’s $407 billion gross product and possesses the highest demand for roads, road maintenance, and new multi-modal forms transportation options. Unfortunately, current state transportation revenues support neither adequate road maintenance in the region nor new forms of transit.
This is difficult news for Virginians, particularly Northern Virginia residents, who depend on transportation to get to work, school, and other places. Working transportation networks play an essential role in economic development, tourism, security, and linking communities.
Here are some facts that illustrate how serious the transportation problem is:
• Congestion consumes 189,000 hours of people’s time in the DC metro area each year.
• Northern Virginia commuters can expect to waste an average of 74 hours per year in traffic.
• State secondary and urban system construction funds have been eliminated.
• Hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted each year on gasoline, contributing to pollution and higher gas prices.
• 39 percent of secondary roads in Northern Virginia are in poor condition.
• Rush hour can last up to 7 hours long.
To make matters worse, the Commonwealth will run out of available funds for highway construction by 2017, and will no longer be able to match federal funds. Yet, the single most damaging fact is Virginia’s decline in competitiveness as a direct result of declining state transportation support. In CNBC’s Rankings of America’s Top States for Business 2012, Virginia fell from #1 to #3 in terms of overall state competitiveness, but dropped twenty-three spots in the category for Infrastructure and Transportation, falling from #10 to #33. The region’s businesses, commuters, and families will continue to pay a harsh economic burden until sufficient investment in transportation is made. Inaction should be viewed as not only a tax on our most valuable asset, time, but also as contributing to the cost of doing business, diminished quality of life, pollution, and higher fuel and maintenance costs. Without effective transportation infrastructure, the Urban Crescent’s economy will decline and so too will the productive strength of the Virginian economy.
Still, in the face of what seems like obvious and startling data, the Commonwealth of Virginia is without a plan to identify adequate and sustainable funding for transportation.
Sharon Bulova is Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors