Following years of transportation budget woes in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell has gotten aggressive about exploring solutions in recent weeks. On May 12, McDonnell announced the sale of $492.7 million in Transportation Capital Projects Revenue Bonds to advance transportation projects managed by VDOT and the Virginia Dept. of Rail and Public Transportation.
The sale is long overdue. It’s the first issuance of bonds that were authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in 2007. However, former Gov. Tim Kaine did not approve the sale of any bonds in light of the souring economy.
McDonnell has promised to issue $2.2 billion in bonds over the next six years, including $293 million of bonds in fiscal year 2011 and another $300 million in each fiscal year from 2012 through 2016. “When the General Assembly authorized these bonds as part of the 2007 transportation package called House Bill 3202, they expected the Commonwealth to use this funding to advance projects and, as promised, I am doing exactly that,” McDonnell said, when the plan was first announced on April 30.
In addition to pushing through bond sales, the governor is also backing some alternative funding sources. The day before the bond sale closed, it was announced that Gov. McDonnell had asked for federal permission to impose tolls on Interstate-95 near the North Carolina border. McDonnell estimates that tolls could raise $30 million to $60 million annually.
The commonwealth is also reviving efforts to bring in private funding for a proposed 55-mile toll road between Suffolk and Petersburg. Following a 2006 solicitation, the state received three proposals ranging from $1 billion to $1.9 billion, however state officials are seeking new proposals in light of the fact that ”market conditions have changed dramatically since 2006.
The commonwealth's decision to go after alternative sources of funding feeds off a reluctance among voters to increase transportation taxes. A poll published last October by The Virginian-Pilot showed that 59% of likely voters believe there should be no new taxes to fix transportation problems. Half agreed that tolls should be added to high-traffic highways, bridges and tunnels.
All of these moves are being made in advance of a working draft of the fiscal year 2011-2016 Six-Year Improvement Program, which is expected to be released next week. The state announced a series of public hearings to be held in May and June around the commonwealth about the plan.