Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. I extend my best wishes to both the teachers and students for success in their upcoming academic year. Children and school buses are on the roads – be sure to give them a “brake.” We are also entering the final stretch of the Nov. 7 election for all statewide offices and the House of Delegates. Prepare yourself for a full-court press from candidates, advocacy groups and others from around the country trying to influence your vote.
Currently, there is a message out there in support of the Republican candidate, belittling the value of the Transportation Act of 2013. I want to remind you HB2313 was a bipartisan effort for long overdue revenue to address critical needs in transportation. Allow me to refresh your memory on this measure introduced by Speaker Bill Howell (R), signed by former Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and supported by Ralph Northam and myself among the majority voting for the best interests of Virginians – not outside forces threatening to withdraw their financial support.
In Northern Virginia, more than $325 million per year has been generated in regional sales, grantor’s and transient occupancy taxes. This funding, generated in our region, stays in our region for approximately 80 projects that improve travel times, reduce delays, improve safety and move Virginians in the most cost-effective manner. These improvements are the ROI Virginians are realizing as a result of HB2313:
• I-66 “Outside the Beltway” – a $2.1 billion investment in the I-66 corridor will include a $500 million concession payment for other multimodal projects in the corridor;
• Route 7 widening – over $250 million investment in capacity expansion;
• Route 28 widening – almost $70 million investment in capacity expansion;
• Route 29 widening – approximately $67 million investment in capacity expansion;
• Design and construction of the Innovation Center and Potomac Yard Metro stations at a cost of almost $140 million as part of Silver Line construction;
• Investments of more than $70 million in VRE projects; and
• The Atlantic Gateway project, a $1.4 billion multimodal public-private investment designed to provide essential travel options and reliability to the heavily congested I-95 corridor contains over $495 million in rail projects.
Many of you use Metro to get to and from your jobs. Virginia’s contribution to Metro flows from the gasoline tax. Over the past five years, revenue supporting Metro services in NOVA has decreased by 40 percent. This is a pressing matter that will need to be addressed in the upcoming 2018 General Assembly session. For myself, I want a Governor who has the courage to tackle the hard issues with a vision and leadership required for bipartisan support to keep our region moving forward. There is only one candidate in the statewide contest who has a documented record on the subject – Ralph Northam.
Based on our proximity to the federal government, there are numerous federal employees and jobs dependent on federal funds. It is alarming to hear threats to shut down the government so that Americans can pay for a wall that was a campaign promise. I remain optimistic that campaign speeches in the coming months will not use the 2016 presidential model. It will be incumbent on all of us to keep our candidates thoughtful, honest and forthcoming. Four years is a long time for the wrong person to be at the helm in Virginia as we retool, develop a New Virginia Economy and continue to build on its foundation for the Commonwealth to thrive.
In closing, I would be remiss to not speak out on the vicious demonstration of hate and bigotry in Charlottesville, home of Virginia’s flagship university – Mr. Jefferson’s UVA. A lot has been said already by elected officials from both sides of the aisle, and I commend their candid repudiation of this evil. I have spent most of my years in public service working to ensure a tolerant, diverse and welcoming environment that facilitates economic prosperity, educational excellence and the highest quality of life for Virginians. “Fine people” do not march with people carrying Nazi flags while shouting anti-Semitic and racist slogans. It distresses me that Ed Gillespie, a candidate running for Governor, did not denounce the divisive rhetoric coming from the President.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]