A long time coming?

Published 9:39 pm Saturday, March 23, 2013

In the great tradition of spending money before it’s actually in the bank, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization already has a plan for the money expected to be raised under the General Assembly’s 2013 transportation funding legislation.

The good news is that widening Holland Road makes Number 2 on the HRTPO’s list of urban roadway system priorities, right behind upgrades to Lynnhaven Parkway in Virginia Beach. The bad news is that traffic along Holland Road could wind up looking a lot like the traffic on Lynnhaven before the widening project ever gets started.

As the new transportation bill awaits Gov. Bob McDonnell’s seal of approval, cities and counties around the state are dusting off their highway construction priority lists in anticipation of bank accounts flush with new state road funds. The reality, however, is that there are significant hurdles to clear before those funds are available.

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First up will be Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who on Friday issued an advisory opinion concluding the transportation-funding overhaul is unconstitutional and taking special exception to the extra sales taxes it would impose on residents of Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

The extra 0.7-percent tax would be used solely for transportation projects within the districts in which it was collected, and the $72-million project to widen Holland Road would be a likely candidate for a portion of the Hampton Roads funds.

Del. Robert G. Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County, had asked for Cuccinelli’s opinion, and he has already promised to take the state to court over the law if McDonnell signs it. The attorney general’s position on the matter would make the legislation that much harder to defend in court.

Another big hurdle is the legislature’s starry-eyed insistence that Congress will approve by January 2015 a law giving Virginia authority to collect Internet sales taxes from remote sellers with no presence in the state. It’s a law that has been tied up in Washington for some time, and even the commonwealth’s own senators have been reticent about promising it will pass.

Without the Internet taxing authority, the Virginia legislation states, a 3.5-percent tax on the wholesale price of gasoline — put in place in lieu of Virginia’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon at-the-pump retail tax, which would be repealed under the transportation plan — would rise to 5.1 percent. Such an eventuality could then further endanger the complex plan.

All of this supposes, of course, that Gov. McDonnell’s desire for a legacy action in his final year in state office will drive him to sign the bill that sits on his desk. But McDonnell could still bow to the incredible pressure from the anti-tax wing of his Republican Party and veto the legislation, putting the commonwealth right back where it was before the legislature met in January.

If he does that, the widening of Holland Road could be a very long time coming.