PPTA reforms announced

Published 8:43 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office says it is working with Suffolk’s Delegate Chris Jones (R-76), chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, on a number of transportation-related reforms.

“I am pleased to work with Chairman Chris Jones on a legislative package that puts the taxpayers first, making sure transportation dollars are invested wisely, while addressing critical transportation needs across Virginia,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “Strengthening our transportation infrastructure and offering new options for commuters and businesses is a central part of my administration’s effort to build a new Virginia economy.”

The legislative package focuses on reforming the Public-Private Transportation Act process, replacing the old transportation funding formula with a new system, fixing aging bridges and pavement, providing stability for transit capital projects and creating a more independent Commonwealth Transportation Board by establishing that the governor can terminate board members only for cause.

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“The changes we are promoting will help get funds to local communities who haven’t seen funds in four years, and the legislation will restore integrity to the public private transportation act process and help keep this program effective for key projects in the future,” Jones was quoted as saying in the release.

He was unavailable for follow-up comment as he was preparing for the session’s commencement on Wednesday.

The reforms to the PPTA program are especially critical after the U.S. Route 460 project debacle, in which taxpayers spent $300 million without even any assurance that the project would receive necessary federal permits.

“The changes we are promoting will help restore integrity to the public private transportation act process and help keep this program effective for key projects in the future,” Jones stated in the press release.

In the proposed reforms, private partners would have to disclose risk that is transferred to the state. The transportation secretary would have to sign a finding of public interest before any deal was finalized. And representatives from the General Assembly would be on a steering committee that determines whether a project moves ahead.

Also according to the press release, the transportation funding formula will be updated. Under the old system, funds were given directly to the localities but broken up in such a manner that it took years for one locality to get enough money to do anything.

The proposed new system will be broken up as follows:

  • 40 percent of the money will go to the rehabilitation of structurally deficient bridges and deteriorating pavement.
  • 30 percent will go to projects of statewide significant, scored by an objective analysis and then chosen by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
  • 30 percent will go to a construction district grant program, where localities can compete for funds regionally.

The last aspect is meant to provide an incentive for localities to work together on their transportation projects, according to the release.

About $50 million annually for transit projects is provided by the proposed legislation.

In addition, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would — in theory, at least — be more inclined to work independently if a bill removing the governor’s authority to terminate its members without cause passes.