Governor deserves to be rememberedPublished 9:16pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012
By Sean T. Connaughton
The title to the editorial in Saturday’s Suffolk News-Herald (“A Governor to Remember”) was correct. Gov. Bob McDonnell is a governor worth remembering. Where the editorial veered off in error is worth exploring.
Gov. McDonnell is not responsible for the economic health of only one town, only one city, or even only one region in Virginia. He is responsible for the economical health and well being of the entire commonwealth of Virginia.
Gov. McDonnell made significant advancements to improve statewide transportation with $14 billion of projects. Many of the improvements were jump-started or accelerated as a result of his $4 billion transportation package passed by the General Assembly in early 2011. These projects include road and rail improvements that will keep traffic, jobs and business moving locally, regionally, in Virginia and along the entire east coast.
To do this, he had to use all financial resources available to him to improve transportation. There are simply not enough state and federal tax revenues and public funding to even come close to meet skyrocketing transportation needs in Virginia. The Public Private Transportation Act, passed by the General Assembly in 1995, is one of the resources available to improve transportation in Virginia.
The PPTA allows the commonwealth to leverage private-sector dollars and innovation to build high-priority transportation projects. In a time when budgetary challenges are significant, this is extraordinarily important. For every dollar Virginia invests in the PPTA projects, we are seeing six to seven dollars in private-sector investment. These are investments in Virginia transportation with real, measurable, tangible benefits for the public.
With Virginia’s investment of less than $900 million in just Northern Virginia’s I-95 and 495 Express Lanes, and Hampton Roads’ Elizabeth River Tunnels, the public will benefit from almost $5 billion in new transportation improvements. These improvements are happening now, not decades in the future. In addition to the increasing safety, connectivity and decreasing congestion, these projects are job creators and economic stimulators. The Elizabeth River Tunnels project was the top priority of the Hampton Roads region for the past 10 years. This project reaching construction is the result of countless meetings between 2006 and 2011 with state and local elected officials, citizens, faith leaders, civic leagues and the Department of Transportation.
The idea that this regional priority, or any other, can be conceived of, and a deal brokered in a dark quiet room could not be further from fact.
Beyond the tangible transportation benefits, the Elizabeth River Tunnels project will bring in more than $1 billion of construction work to local companies, more than 500 direct jobs and more than 1,000 indirect jobs.
The new Route 460 project is expected to offer Southside Virginia 4,000 jobs during construction and more than 14,000 long-term jobs in an economically distressed region when the new road opens. The project will stimulate business development in the region and accommodate greater freight traffic from the Port of Virginia, benefiting the entire commonwealth.
These benefits are immensely important for the long-term health and sustainability of the entire commonwealth.
Another priority is the business review under way at the Port of Virginia. The Port is Virginia’s biggest economic engine; like any engine, tune-ups are needed to ensure the machine runs at optimal efficiency. This is an activity every business undertakes for competitive advantages.
At the end of the review, we may find the port engine is running at top efficiency. Conversely the process may open the door to new relationships and innovations that will allow us to maximize the growth, shares, and volumes at the port. Either outcome is beneficial to Virginia and will serve to increase our competitive advantage.
Gov. McDonnell’s administration has also supported the Department of Rail and Public Transportation funding millions in transit improvements, including completion of the Norfolk Tide Light Rail. AMTRAK rail service to Norfolk will promote economic growth, tourism and environmental benefits. The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is expanding its launch capabilities and continuing its contribution of $7.6 billion annually into Virginia’s economy and supporting more than 28,000 long-term jobs.
The above identifies only a sampling of the transportation programs and projects that have been initiated by the McDonnell administration, in part made possible by passing the most significant transportation package in decades.
When the full picture of Gov. McDonnell’s contribution to transportation in Virginia is revealed, this truly is a governor to remember. We remember leaders who identify and implement solutions, not only for the present but future generations as well.
Sean T. Connaughton is the Virginia Secretary of Transportation. Contact his office at (804) 786-8032.