Mixed success for Jones’ port bills

Published 10:05 pm Thursday, January 31, 2013

A little more than three weeks since the state legislature convened for 2013, a package of bills from Suffolk’s delegate to reform transportation policy, particularly regarding the Public-Private Transportation Act, has so far met with mixed success.

Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-76th), an outspoken critic of the state’s “broken” PPTA, arrived in Richmond last month the chief patron of eight transportation-related bills, half of which still have a chance of success.

The PPTA statute, which Jones’ bills represent an effort to reform, has been the target of criticism since Maersk subsidiary APM used it early last year to launch a bid for the long-term lease of Virginia’s port facilities, drawing two counter bids. One has since been withdrawn.

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Jones’ HB 1690, which would have excluded private bidders from using the statute for what many regard as an attempted takeover of existing critical public infrastructure, has been tabled for the year by a House subcommittee.

But a multifaceted bill from Sen. Frank Wagner that, among other things, would achieve the same objective, has emerged from the Senate Transportation Committee.

Another Jones bill, to require General Assembly approval for the sale, or lease for 10 or more years, of any port facility under the PPTA, was also dropped by the House subcommittee.

The same subcommittee tabled a Jones proposal to prevent the Virginia Port Authority from accepting under the PPTA or the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act any future unsolicited proposal for ownership or operation of any port facility.

But it reported out HB 1692, which would give rival bidders 120 days to respond to any unsolicited PPTA proposal for a qualified transportation facility.

A Jones bill to reform the Port Authority and Commonwealth Transportation boards was on Thursday’s agenda for a House General Laws subcommittee.

A bill to have the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission study the “efficiency and sufficiency of funding” for transportation has been tabled by a House Rules subcommittee.

Meanwhile, a bill to have the commission conduct a one-year study of the “competitiveness, efficiency and governance structure” of the port was reported out of the same subcommittee.

A bill to amend the state constitution to establish a separate and dedicated fund for transportation that may only be borrowed from for other purposes with a two-thirds-plus-one-member vote in each house, repayable with “reasonable interest” within four years, has been sent to the Senate after unanimous support on the House floor.

Jones’ opposition to the long-term private leasing of port facilities is shared by many fellow state legislators, as well as members of the shipping industry and the public at large.

Illustrating the Port of Virginia’s growing strength, it was the fastest growing East Coast container port in 2012, according to a VPA press release.

Container throughput at Virginia’s terminals increased 9.8 percent on 2011 levels, ahead of Charleston’s 9.6 percent, the second-fastest growing port.

“This is not the type of thing we’ll get an award for, but it shows that our effort to market the deepest shipping channels on the East Coast, an expanding rail network, the modern container terminals that we own and operate and a commitment to customer service and continual improvement is drawing attention — business — to Virginia,” Rodney Oliver, VPA’s interim executive director, stated in the release.

The VPA has also announced that air pollution from Hampton Roads ports has “dramatically declined,” or, in some cases, been “totally eliminated,” since 2004.