Hugo Proposes to Restructure the CTB


bill submitted by Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, would expand the Commonwealth Transportation Board from 18 members to 24 by adding three members of the Virginia Senate and three members of the House of Delegates.

I have not talked to Hugo about his reasoning, but I can conjecture. The bill represents an effort to make the CTB a more independent-minded body for establishing state transportation policy and setting spending priorities. As currently constituted, the board is comprised entirely of gubernatorial appointees: the Secretary of Transportation, the Virginia Highway Commissioner, the director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and 15 citizens from around the state who serve at the pleasure of the governor.

In a companion bill, Hugo proposes to allow removal board members only for offenses of malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence or gross neglect of duty. 

As I reported in a story a year ago, the CTB had held 10 monthly meetings and voted on 134 resolutions during the first 10 months of 2012. Of those, 131 passed unanimously. When there were dissenting voices, only a single board member voted in the minority. Controversial mega-projects involving the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars typically received little debate. James E. Rich, former Culpeper District representative, was one of the few board members to ever speak out against, or vote against, controversial McDonnell administration decisions. He was fired and replaced.

Hugo’s bills would diminish the power of the executive branch only slightly. Governors still would appoint a majority of board members, the Secretary of Transportation still would control the agenda, and board members still would rely upon state employees for most of their information. But Hugo’s bills would do two important things to improve the quality of CTB deliberations. First, legislators would bring a valuable independent perspective and body of knowledge to the board. Second, gubernatorial appointees would feel free to speak more openly if they knew they could not be dismissed for disagreeing with the governor.

My main reservation is that expanding the board would make it more cumbersome. But a larger board would be a small price to pay for a more independent board comprised of members willing to ask tough questions.


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18 responses to “Hugo Proposes to Restructure the CTB”

  1. I’m not seeing this as an improvement. It’s going to put even more politics into CTB decisions.

    It bothers me greatly that the CTB has these huge mega-project issues and there is almost no apparent dialogue -like the issue has already been decided via some other process or venue.

    the problem is – what kinds of people should be on the CTB?

    I can tell you that the last 3 reps from our area were not only not transportation-savvy people.. but some were best known for their
    irresponsible actions as elected making land-use decisions.

    The one we have now does not realize that an actual NEPA-type study is required for major new roads that use Federal funding.

    None of these people truly represent the area- truly meet with citizens and constituents.. they do not show up at highway hearings.. they do not get educated about transportation planning and regulations.. they’re just “appointees” …. and while some of them are more on the ball than others.. they strike me like they do a lot of other boards in Va … they’re not there because of their demonstrated involvement in transportation issues.. but rather their connections to political machinery.

    They pretty much do what VDOT recommends.. I do not think I’ve ever seen the CTB at odds with VDOT except for the Culpeper guy.

    There are lots better ways to reform the CTB – and to start with – structure representation over planning districts or MSAs not VDOT districts that were drawn according to 1922 Congressional Boundaries such that the Culpeper VDOT represents Charlottesville…

    I’d get rid of the current board and replace them a Super MPO structure that has 3 bodies.

    A technical body that vetts actual projects – and that board would be transportation professionals.

    an citizen body that would weigh in on proposals in an advisory manner.

    and a policy body that would make the decisions.

    the policy body would be 1/3 transportation professionals and 1/3 political appointees and 1/3 citizens who are elected much like the current soil and water boards are elected.

    I’m not sure actually what Hugo is attempting to achieve.

  2. Larry, I fully agree with electing some ordinary citizens as per your suggestion.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Great idea! Every board of whatever concerning state assets should have a minority of elected officials on that board.

    I am sick to death of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond shirking its duty to manage the assets of the Commonwealth.

    Where was the Clown Show when the UVA Board fired Dragas? Nowhere to be found.

  4. cpzilliacus Avatar

    larryg wrote:

    The one we have now does not realize that an actual NEPA-type study is required for major new roads that use Federal funding.

    Even if no federal funds are being spent, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will frequently be required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if a Section 404 [of the Clean Water Act] permit is required. Since nearly all proposed major projects come close to or may impact the Waters of the United States, it follows that Section 404 permits are required, and thus an EIS has to be prepared.

    1. yes… and we have people on the CTB right now that do not realize this and think they can “vote” for a road they like and build it ….

      that’s an example of the level of understanding of transportation law and policy that is on the CTB.

  5. Breckinridge Avatar

    Adding the state legislators would just increase the politics, and they would pretty much be the only members of the board taking campaign contributions and accepting gifts from lobbyists. Hmmm. Ponder that for a while.

    I suspect the unanimity shown in meetings reflects a fair amount of discussion before the meetings and the board members are having some input. Otherwise, why have the CTB at all other than to give some political cover to the governor and the commissioner?

    There are separation of powers issues at work here. The members of the General Assembly are tempted to play Governor, but the executive power rests in the Governor.

    And no, we are not electing the commissioner or CTB members. We are not going back to a long ballot.

    1. In my coverage of the CTB over two years, I was not able to ascertain how much discussion before meetings between board members there was about big, controversial issues. I don’t think there was much — indeed, if there had been, it might have been a violation of openness laws. What I can say is that most CTB members are highly involved in the decision-making process in their own transportation districts, interacting with local elected officials, attending hearings, interacting with the public. Maybe not each board member, but the more conscientious ones. The function of board members is really to act as a liaison between the administration and the local populace. The problem, to my mind, is that everyone on the board deferred to the wishes of the local board member for projects in their district — all with the exception of the Charlottesville Bypass, which was a high-profile project pushed by the McDonnell administration over the wishes of Jim Rich.

      The question Virginians need to ask is this: Do they want board members selected on their ability to function as intermediaries in what is essentially a patronage system? Or do they want board members to be actively involved in setting policy, establishing priorities and providing leadership?

      1. You make a good point about the separation-of-powers issue. Virginia’s governor is a one-term office, which has a lot of drawbacks as many on this blog have observed. One way the system is designed to compensate for that short tenure is to make the office of governor powerful. The CTB is a classic instance. The CTB reflects the will of the governor. It was never designed as an entity that exercises independent judgment and power.

      2. The current CTB position is not one where the member seeks out the public – to become known to the public, accessible to the public and willing to meeting with public on even the transportation issues in their district.

        they are much more tuned into to local politics and business interests.

        they might show up some hearings but the one’s I’ve seen they are hobnobbing with the local politicos rather than the Hoi polloi.

        When an average citizen is trying to find out what the plans are for transportation in their area.. it’s not particularly easy even in areas that have MPOs…

        Even at the 6yr VDOT database (which has decent but limited functionality) there are usually no maps and often a long list of funding sources that are undefined and there is no explanation as to why there are so many different funding sources, etc.

        and the CTB rep is out of that loop as far as the public is concerned.

        there is no person that the public can go to – to ask questions about and better understand projects on the 6yr plan…

        here is an example:

        no map. no contact, no CTB rep.

        the public is not only pretty much clueless about the process but the CTB guys are mostly AWOL even though they are supposed to “represent”.

  6. Many states have elected road commissions as well as elected school boards.

    In most states, elected school boards and elected road commissions can set tax rates.

    I would assert that few things in Virginia frustrates people as much as trying to understand transportation policy and that having a vote would give them someone to connect with and hold accountable to some degree.

    the “Va Way” basically is to have these boards whether it’s MWAA or UVA or CTB that essentially constitute shadow government that is un-elected and largely un-accountable.

    People who lack important background knowledge and skills are appointed to these boards and expected to make informed decisions that do affect other Virginians.

    The CTB is the poster child of this, even more than the MWAA because the CTB affects transportation policy for the entire state and they largely as a board are unknown even to the people in their own districts.

    you have a board that deals with significant and important issues involves major policy issues that commit Va to long-term commitments with PPTA and overall state funding and borrowing and citizens don’t know who they are and the members themselves apparently do not have even minimal dialogue about these things before the vote – a record – minutes – for citizens to read about how we got to those decisions.

    Instead, the CTB shows up.. the get to that point on the agenda.. a motion is made.. and they vote and move on to the next item.

    Imagine if your local BOS functioned that way ……

  7. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    I have a breakdown of the current CTB if anyone is interested

    Disturbing how few of them have any engineering or transportation planning background and yet control the largest line item expense for the state. Yay!

    1. Good list with interesting comments on board member backgrounds. But you need to make one important correction. Mark Peake is from the Lynchburg District. The biographical info you allude to actually describes Aubrey Layne, the incoming Secretary of Transportation.

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        Wow that is whacky for sure. Have corrected to note Mark Peake’s legal background… still not in anyway competent to determine the need or feasibility of transportation projects.

    2. The CTB is not representative of the public whatsoever. I’ve been involved with a major civic organization (served on the transportation committee) and saw several requests made to meet with local CTB members that were ignored. This is simply unacceptable. Our supervisors, delegates and senators meet with us, as do school board and planning commission members. The CTB thinks its job is to carry water for land speculators.

  8. shaunalex Avatar

    Would like to see more engineers, planners, and educated professionals on the CTB, and fewer elected officials.

  9. yup.. I do not agree with Jim… if you asked 100, a 1000 people in Henrico who their CTB rep is and what kinds of hearings they could meet him/her at.. they’d have no clue.

    the CTB reps mostly move in circles higher up than citizens.

    the fact that they do NOT have public discussions on decisions within the confines of CTB meetings is NOT a plus.

    it confirms suspicions that prior – illegal – conversations outside of the public’s eye have occurred – contrary to law…. things that local BOS would be held accountable for doing… yet the CTB does this routinely.

    Imagine – if your local BOS provided an agenda .. opened their meetings and proceeded from one agenda item to the next, taking votes and having virtually no dialogue.

    what would you think?

  10. I’m late to this party, but I have to agree with some of the sentiments expressed above that, whatever the deficiencies of the CTB structure and manning, adding members of the General Assembly to it would seem to be the worst possible modification of the Board. It’s bad enough that members of the General Assembly are in the General Assembly.

  11. The CTB is operated like a lot of such panels and boards in Va – a lot under the radar…

    but structurally – it’s more political than professional or technical… they’re just local political functionaries keeping tabs on transportation interests for their area… giving a shove when it can help and mostly staying out of the knickers of other districts.

    the impression I get is that on mega, multi-district projects, they’re guided by VDOT recommendations and as a board the votes are often unamimous with little discussion much less differing views expressed – with one recent notable exception.

    It would be interesting to hear the justification for having members of the General Assembly there although to be perfectly honest – there are about a dozen MPOs in Va and each one , the policy/decision body is 3/4 elected officials with the technical issues handled by a separate body that provides the elected officials with recommends.. e.g. like VDOT provides the CTB similar.

    Roads are political anywhere you go.. it don’t matter which State or the nuances of how they do transportation. when it comes to laying down pavement.. and paying for it – there are usually few bystanders and even fewer agnostics.

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