Officials tout transportation referendum

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 4, 2002

There are no free lunches and that is painfully true as it relates to building and sustaining our transportation system. Even though some think otherwise, if we want an efficient transportation network throughout Hampton Roads, we will have to pay for it in one way or another. While I, like most, would prefer not to pay an additional penny on every dollar for goods I purchase, I will vote in support of the transportation referendum on the Nov. 5th ballot because it is the best option available.

Some believe the state should fund these projects. I agree in theory but in reality that’s just not going to happen. The state has budgeted just $7.5 billion in its statewide 6-year plan, and none of that is for the projects addressed in this referendum.

Could the transportation projects be paid for with tolls instead? Sure, but that would require a $13 toll each way on the proposed new 3rd Hampton Roads Crossing. And, nobody wants to put tolls on roads or bridges where construction costs have long ago been paid. Could we fund the projects through an increased gasoline tax?

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Yes, but it would require a 21-cents per gallon increase, more than doubling the current state tax rate. I believe that none of these options is acceptable to most citizens and that brings us back to the best option before us, a 1-cent increase in the sales tax.

What will we get for our extra penny, estimated to cost the average family $100 each year?

We will get more time with our families, more time to enjoy leisure activities and less time sitting on the highways in traffic congestion that will only continue to grow and choke our economy.

Will the road improvements benefit the ports? Absolutely and by doing so, thousands of high paying jobs will be sustained for workers from throughout the Hampton Roads region. Will it benefit tourism? Yes, again supporting thousands of jobs and adding to our region’s tax base, lessening the tax burden on all our citizens.

Will it benefit our children and grandchildren? If you believe our children should have the same opportunities that we have had to find jobs and raise their families here in Hampton Roads, the answer is absolutely yes. Without an efficient transportation system, jobs will leave the region and ultimately our children will be forced to relocate to areas where they can find employment and where they aren’t forced to spend increasingly long hours sitting on congested highways.

Will passage of the transportation referendum on Nov. 5th solve all our traffic problems? No. But it will ease traffic at the most severe choke points on the major links between our communities. It will improve our ability to keep and attract the type of high paying jobs we all desire. And, it will allow us the opportunity to spend more time on family and leisure activities than we will be able to experience should we do nothing.

The cost of doing nothing far exceeds the cost of investing an average of $100 per year for our future.

Mayor E. Dana Dickens

Suffolk City Council

P.O. Box 1858,

Suffolk, Va. 23439

Opponents of the Nov. 5th transportation referendum cite a lack of faith in their elected officials as the key reason they oppose the funding of six road projects that all seem to agree are essential to the future of the Hampton Roads region. In reviewing the law that will govern the funding of these roadway construction projects should the referendum pass, I feel confident that those concerns are greatly overstated.

Any citizen who wishes to read the language themselves can do so by accessing Chapter 853 of the Virginia State Code, available on the state’s Web site,

MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor http://leg1.state.va.us, but I would like to cite two major provisions.

Opponents express a belief that the monies collected from Hampton Roads taxpayers will be absorbed into the state’s general fund or will be diverted to other projects. The law specifically says otherwise. &uot;The net proceeds of the Bonds shall be used by the Planning District Commission, together with any other available funds, exclusively to pay all or a portion of the costs of the Projects and Program…&uot; The six projects that are included in the transportation referendum are then specifically listed including total bonding authority to be used for each. In other words, these monies cannot be used for other projects nor can monies be shifted away from one project to fund another.

Many have also expressed the belief that the tax will not be removed once the construction bonds have been paid. Again, the law expressly provides otherwise. &uot;That the sales and use tax, pursuant to subsections A and B of section 58.1-604.4, shall end upon both of the following conditions being met: (i) completion and implementation of the Eastern Virginia Regional Transportation Program as described in the second enactment of this act and (ii) final payment of the principal and interest on all bonds and other indebtedness issued pursuant to such second enactment.&uot; In other words, once the six projects have been constructed and the bonds have been paid off, the tax will be repealed automatically.

While there can be no guarantee that the Virginia General Assembly will not pass new legislation imposing new taxes or fees on citizens, this language does guarantee it cannot do so without passing new legislation at public scrutiny. The passage nor failure of the Nov. 5th referendum can change this option.

Our region needs to invest in these improvements to our transportation network if we want to ensure that we will continue to enjoy a healthy economy and good quality of life in Hampton Roads. The alternative is more traffic congestion and fewer hours in our day to spend with our families.

Calvin W. Jones

Suffolk City Council

321 Northbrooke Avenue

Suffolk, Va. 23434

539-7264

For those that share my belief that an efficient public transit system must be an integral part of Hampton Roads’ transportation system, I encourage you to support the transportation referendum question on the Nov. 5th ballot.

Among the six projects to be funded by the transportation bonds is $800 million for public transit, about one-tenth of all the funds to be generated by the bonds. While this isn’t enough to bring High Speed rail to the region, or to develop a light rail commuter system throughout the region or even bring our public bus transit network to a level that can meet all the region’s needs, it is $800 million closer than we are today.

Nearly three-quarters of these dollars will be used in building a segment of the third crossing of Hampton Roads that will be dedicated to mass transit.

This might well be a light rail link between the Southside and the Peninsula that could serve as a major commuter service for employees at the Newport News shipyards and the Norfolk Naval facilities. It would take cars off the bridges, providing some relief to those of us still in our cars, and it would provide a means to reach these work centers without risk of being caught in major traffic delays.

The remaining $200 million in transit funding could be used to leverage as much as $800 million additional dollars in federal transit support. Given that the Commonwealth of Virginia dedicates only $25 million annually to support public transit capital funding, a total infusion of up to $1.6 billion in new transit dollars would be a tremendous step forward.

Dollars to be dedicated through the bonding authority for the five roadway project improvements will also benefit mass transit efforts indirectly. By funding these major projects through the referendum, state and federal transportation dollars can be earmarked for other area priorities including public transit.

A vote in support of the transportation referendum is a vote for an efficient transportation network including a big step forward in developing a public transit system that can better meet our citizens’ commuting needs. A YES vote is a vote to improve the quality of life for all.

Charles Brown

Suffolk City Council

1342 Devonshire Court

Suffolk, Va. 23434

380-7609

Some of the opponents of the Nov. 5th transportation referendum are those that identify themselves as &uot;smart growth&uot; advocates. One of the two projects they cite as being contrary to their goals are the Route 460 improvements from Suffolk to Isle of Wight. They express concern that these improvements will encourage the type of leapfrog, sprawl development that they oppose. I want to reassure them that this is not the case.

As chairman of the Suffolk Planning Commission, I can tell you that the improvements to Route 460 will enhance the city’s &uot;smart growth&uot; plan. Smart growth does not mean no growth. Rather, it means planned, sustainable growth in areas where public infrastructure can be provided more economically and efficiently than sporadic, leapfrog development allows. Currently, Route 460 in the City of Suffolk is a four-lane primary arterial roadway. This facility is designated in the City’s Comprehensive Plan as a future limited access freeway and improvements to the roadway will actually enhance our smart growth plan rather than detract from it. In addition, the City’s Comprehensive Plan guides growth along this corridor only to areas that where planned infrastructure can be provided in an economical and efficient manner and not at the far greater expense that results with sporadic, leapfrog growth patterns.

The Route 460 corridor is zoned for mixed uses including commercial, residential and agricultural development. By guiding growth along this and other identified growth corridors in the city, as defined in the City’s Comprehensive Plan, we can simultaneously build the necessary infrastructure such as schools, public safety facilities, water and sewer lines required to support new development at a lesser total cost to our taxpayers.

Equally significant, the City of Suffolk is aggressively seeking new business development along this corridor in those areas identified in the Comprehensive Plan for growth that will provide our citizens and their children with the job opportunities they desire. Businesses looking to relocate or expand regard an efficient transportation network as central to their location decision. Improvements to Route 460 will provide an efficient link from the Port of Hampton Roads to key destinations to our south and southwest.

Passage of the Nov. 5th transportation referendum is essential to funding the improvements of Route 460 in the foreseeable future and will further the interests of both smart growth advocates and the citizens of Suffolk.

Howard Benton

Chairman, Suffolk Planning Commission

420 North Liberty Spring Road

Suffolk, Va. 23434

986-4918