Drilling decision could benefit Va. highways

Published 8:39 pm Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It appears state leaders are running out of excuses when it comes to many of the problems of Virginia’s overtaxed, underfunded and decaying highway systems.

Virginia drivers and businesses may prove to have been the biggest winners as a result of President Obama’s announcement that he plans to allow offshore oil drilling off the East Coast. Last week’s announcement gave Gov. Bob McDonnell the leverage, and potentially the revenue, to begin fulfilling an important campaign platform — fixing our roads.

Just a few weeks ago, local legislators were worried about the bleak outlook for such desperately needed highway construction projects as the expansion and widening of Route 460 and Route 58. The recent legislative session had featured a financial battle that ultimately resulted in cuts to education funding across Virginia and cutbacks in other state-funded services.

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But, last week’s decision may make the “lack of funds” excuse something of the past, at least as it relates to transportation projects.

During the recent legislative session, long before anyone knew of the president’s intentions, lawmakers authorized the governor to divide up the potential revenues from future offshore drilling leases between transportation projects and green energy research and development.

With 80 percent of the revenues going to transportation, the traffic congestion and headaches that many of us experience on a daily basis around Suffolk and Hampton Roads could finally be solved one day.

In a letter that appeared in many newspapers around Virginia, McDonnell praised the recent decision on offshore drilling and spoke about what it could mean.

“Wednesday’s announcement means future jobs for Virginians and much-needed revenue or our commonwealth,” McDonnell wrote. “Again, I applaud the president for his decision — and thank all the Virginia leaders from both parties who have worked together to make this announcement possible.”

Let’s just hope it is not too long before we can see this decision manifest itself in better roads, less congestion and a safer highway system for everyone.