The top of the list

Published 9:34 pm Thursday, November 6, 2008

The city of Suffolk’s top priority in a legislative agenda set out during a City Council meeting on Wednesday will come as no surprise to anyone who drives on Route 58 towards Holland, on Route 664 near the Chesapeake Square Mall exits or — leaving the city — across or through any of the region’s bridges or tunnels during rush hour.

In fact, taking care of transportation issues will likely lead the legislative wish lists of every community in Hampton Roads this year. Years have passed while Virginia’s General Assembly dithered about, looking for easy, regional solutions to a problem whose solution will require hard sacrifices from people in every part of the state.

The strictly regional approach to highway improvements was first shot down in 2002, when the Assembly forced area voters to consider paying the full cost of improving roads that benefit the entire state. Voters dumped that regional plan by a 2-1 margin. Nonetheless, legislators continued to approach transportation funding from just that perspective, finally ushering through an approach that would have given a regional agency the authority to levy extra taxes on Hampton Roads citizens to pay for highway improvements here. After the state’s Supreme Court ruled the scheme unconstitutional, the General Assembly and the governor took an approach that amounted, effectively, to wringing their hands.

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And still the roads and bridges deteriorate, and still the traffic worsens.

Until legislators and the governor can make an effective case to the rest of the state for sharing the burden of highway and tunnel improvements in Hampton Roads, things are not likely to change.

Residents here understand that much of our traffic results from activities that pad Virginia’s tax coffers: tourism, ports and the Navy, for instance. What we need are elected officials who can take that knowledge on the road, pitching the idea of cooperation in helping us solve the problems that threaten those activities and, by extension, the tax revenues that benefit every locality in Virginia.