The transportation governor?Published 10:31pm Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Bob McDonnell had high hopes that he would become known as Virginia’s transportation governor for the historic package of tax increases, tolls, bonds and other revenue-generating schemes that went into effect as a result of work last year by the governor and his designees in the General Assembly.
Indeed, the commonwealth is expected to have billions of dollars in new highway funds during the next decade as a result of the package of both statewide and regional taxes and fees, and tolls at both tunnels between Norfolk and Portsmouth will help pay for an additional tube crossing the Elizabeth River, as well as other projects designed to alleviate gridlock in Hampton Roads.
But if he holds true to his promises, Gov. Terry McAuliffe could turn out to be Virginia’s true transportation governor. McAuliffe has acted quickly in his first three months in office to alleviate some of the problems caused by his predecessor’s headlong rush into some questionable transportation deals and projects.
The door had barely closed behind McAuliffe entering the executive suite before he was making small amendments to the new toll structure at the tunnels. And it was not long before the new administration began looking at one of McDonnell’s marquee projects, construction of a new, tolled Route 460. After finding the commonwealth had spent $300 million on the project without a shovelful of dirt being turned — and more importantly without the slightest assurance the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would issue a permit to disturb more than 470 acres of wetlands — the new governor directed the work to be shut down.
On Wednesday, McAuliffe announced to members of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce that it will be the policy of his administration that no roads be built in Virginia until all environmental permits have been acquired. That should at least give business owners and other taxpayers confidence there will be no more $300-million holes dug by a governor for VDOT to pour money into.
Further, McAuliffe, said, Route 58, which always should have received more attention from transportation officials, will be a focus for his administration. Though he didn’t mention Suffolk directly in the context of Route 58, McAuliffe referred to the need to quickly and efficiently move goods into and out of the Port of Virginia — located just to the east of Suffolk — whose customers increasingly look to Suffolk as a point for warehousing and distribution and as a route for getting their products to and from the ports. Suffolk is desperate for state help to alleviate the growing traffic problems along Route 58, and having a governor who recognizes the problem gets folks here one step closer to a solution.
A year ago, there was probably nobody in the commonwealth who could have imagined the possibility that the transportation governor of the modern era could be Terry McAuliffe. But if he remains on the same road, that could easily be his destiny.