HRTAC’s unsmooth start

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A new organization empowered to combine new revenue with bond sales and tolls to solve Hampton Roads’ transportation problems got off to a shaky start in Chesapeake on Wednesday.

After haggling over bylaws at the beginning of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission organizational meeting, the members took nine roll-call votes to gain the two-thirds majority needed to elect a chairman. Chesapeake Mayor Alan Krasnoff was the eventual choice.

Taking over from transportation secretary Aubrey Layne — who led the meeting until Krasnoff’s election — after a further four unsuccessful roll calls, Krasnoff sprang an unexpected voice vote to land Sen. Frank Wagner the vice chairmanship.

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On the commission board are 14 representatives of Hampton Roads localities, five General Assembly members and five non-voting representatives of state agencies.

Using new transportation revenue created by the 2013 General Assembly, their task is to decide which regionally significant projects to support, which also can include tolls and bonds.

Outside the meeting, Layne indicated that the state legislators are on the board to provide more of a regional focus over the parochialism of the mayors.

“We have got to think regionally,” Layne said. “I can’t say today was a great example of that.”

The Hampton Roads Tea Party and Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance proposed various changes to the commission’s bylaws. Layne said the bylaws used those of the new commission’s Northern Virginia counterpart and the law passed by the General Assembly as a template.

“They can be changed at any time by the will of the commission,” Layne told board members, who stuck with the proposed bylaws after debating whether to rotate the chairmanship between Southside and Peninsula localities periodically, among other issues.

Tea Party and Taxpayers Alliance member Reid Greenmun said the groups were scrutinizing the new commission because it has the power to dramatically increase public debt with bond sales, toll “any road in the region,” and select which projects get built.

“That is important to us,” said Greenmun, who Layne shut down several times during the meeting when he tried to interject. Greenmun was eventually allowed his say at the end.

“We want the right to come in here and speak,” Greenmun said. “Right now, we don’t have that right. They have so much power here, but we can’t elect them; they are appointed.”

Greenmun also protested that after receiving the proposed bylaws only on Friday, the two citizens’ groups were rushed in their analysis of them.

Layne said the commission would be responsible for allocating about $200 million a year, with about $17 million coming in per month.

“The law requires them to be regionally significant projects,” he said.

The board Wednesday also authorized a search for a commission executive director and set regular monthly meetings for 12:30 p.m. every third Thursday — after the monthly Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization board meetings.

The venue is the Regional Board Room, 723 Woodlake Drive, Chesapeake.