not going to reformulate our way out of our
transportation problems,” said Del. William
Fralin, R-Roanoke. He was dismissing as an option
one of the most common legislative campaign
slogans – “changing the funding formula to
make sure we in (fill in your home locality) get
our fair share.”
comment came during a December 8 meeting of the
House subcommittee charged with working on
Virginia’s staggering transportation challenges.
Two speakers earlier in the program had kicked out
a couple of the other props that hold up the “we
don’t need to raise taxes” optimists.
Rae of the Department of Rail and Public
Transportation didn’t say it, but her
presentation eventually amounted to ”We’re not
going to railroad our way out of our
transportation problems.” And Mary Lynn Tischer,
who had the thankless and largely successful task
of watching out for Virginia in the new federal
transportation bill, could have said the same
about “federally fund our way out.”
report actually was quite good news, an example of
how a little money used wisely can make a major
difference. Her department is making its final
recommendations next week on how to spend the $23
million annual rail improvement fund created by
the 2005 General Assembly.
matching grants to be approved by the Commonwealth
Transportation Board next week focus mainly on
freight rail projects, although some have joint
benefits with passenger rail and a couple are
purely for passenger rail.
most significant would allow double stacking of
containers coming into and out of the Port of
Virginia’s various facilities, both to the west
on Norfolk Southern tracks and to the south into
North Carolina and beyond on CSX. Federal money
was earmarked for this, as well, and the
bottlenecks in West Virginia also will be
addressed (or Virginia won’t spend its money).
Another project will allow the new Maersk terminal
to put loads directly on rail cars instead of
trucking them to a rail yard. Others buy right of
way to make sure that key lines in the region
at the end of her PowerPoint there was one
unexplained line: “Market Share Increase: 8%”.
What does that actually mean, your reporter asked?
means, with all these projects and the resulting
double stacking, removing maybe 200,000 trucks a
year off the road at the start and far more in the
future, the share of port business being handled
by the rail would go from 25 percent to 33
percent. About two thirds of the loads – two
thirds of the rapidly increasing loads – would
remain on the roads.
rail improvements to the ports “are not the
be-all and end-all. They are part of the
solution,” Rae said.
news on the federal legislation was even more
mixed. She walked the committee members through
the complexities of federal programs, the
mandatory projects and the long list of earmarks.
average, federal spending in Virginia should
increase more than $135 million per year, but more
than $96 million per year is designated by
Congress in some way and another $31 million goes
into various special categories, leaving the
Commonwealth with a grand total of (cue the drum
roll, please) $8 million new dollars annually that
we get to decide how to spend.
course, as she pointed out, those earmarks
didn’t fall out of the sky. Some local
government, planning district, interest group,
asked their congressperson to put the money in
there and lock it up for their pet project. Some,
but not all, were also the CTB’s priorities. The
enemy is, as it always is in these things, us.
earmarked funds rarely (maybe never) cover the
full cost, of course. And even the highway program
increases which are not locked up for special
projects require additional state matching funds.
So the increased federal funding just continues to
erode the state’s flexibility and increases the
chances that some time in the future we will leave
federal funds on the table because we can’t
the kicker – the same higher gasoline prices
which are depressing consumption and gas tax
revenues at the state level also depress tax
collection at the federal level. The five-year
price tag on the federal bill is $286 billion, but
the July 2005 (pre-Katrina!) revenue estimate was
only $231 billion. That’s a shortfall of about
$11 billion annually, mostly on the back end. The
U.S. Chamber of Commerce figures the expenses will
pass the revenue for the final two years.
the federal bill included another $9 billion
“rescission” at the end of the five-year cycle
– in effect taking back $9 billion. There was
much discussion at the meeting about just what
mystery. The finance director at the Attorney
General’s office told me all about those things
years ago. It’s called a TTTB entry. When your
expenses exceed your income you plug in a negative
number to even things out – “takes this to
December 12, 2005