McDonnell Unveils Transportation Goodie List

Virginia would get more inter-city passenger rail under Governor McDonnell’s plan.

To make the benefits of his transportation tax package more politically palatable, Governor Bob McDonnell has announced a list of 15 major road and rail projects that would receive funding — from the Rail-to-Dulles Metrorail project to a bridge replacement for Interstate 81 over the New River.

The funding proposal, which would scrap the gasoline tax and increase the sales tax, among other changes, will raise $1.28 billion (presumably over five years) for 158 highway projects and $1.07 billion for rail and transit projects, states a press release from the governor’s office. Additionally, the plan will prevent the delay of another $500 million in projects in the existing Six Year Improvement Program due to a softening of revenue projections.

Stated McDonnell: “Every corner of the Commonwealth will reap the benefits of safer roads, quicker commutes and increased access to public transportation if this plan is adopted.  A world-class transportation system is vital to both economic opportunity and to the quality of life of every Virginian.”

The projects include:

  • Dulles Metrorail Extension Project
  • Extension of passenger rail to Roanoke
  • Increased train service to and from Norfolk
  • I-66/Route 28 interchange in Fairfax County
  • I-95 interchange relocation in Stafford County
  • I-95/I-64 overlap improvements in Richmond
  • I-64 capacity improvements between Newport News and Williamsburg
  • Route 606, Dulles Loop in Loudoun County
  • Route 29/666 Interchange in Culpeper County
  • Route 340 bridge replacement in Warren County
  • I-81 bridge replacement over the New River in Montgomery County
  • I-81/I-77 overlap capacity improvements
  • Numerous bridge replacements statewide
  • Major interstate reconstructive paving projects statewide
  • Track improvements Newport News to Richmond/Richmond to Washington, D.C.
  • Unpaved road projects, statewide

Bacon’s bottom line.

It is difficult to evaluate this list because (1) there are no dollar figures attached in the press release to the projects, (2) the administration has not yet implemented a Return on Investment methodology that would allow citizens to see how the projects compare, and (3) the press release does not tell us which projects have been reviewed and approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board for inclusion in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six Year Improvement Program and which ones are new funding initiatives that leap-frog past previously established priorities.

But from a political perspective, none of that matters. As long as there are goodies for every region, wavering legislators will be more tempted to vote for the package.

Update: Here is a detailed list of projects with dollar values included. (Hat tip: Larry Gross.) Uh, oh, I see that $64 million is allocated to unspecified “smart roadway technology” projects. Oh, be still, my beating heart! I confess, I’m a huge fan of smart roads. But I’d still like to see how the ROI for these projects stacks up compared to the roads and rail.


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15 responses to “McDonnell Unveils Transportation Goodie List”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    “But from a political perspective, none of that matters. As long as there are goodies for every region, wavering legislators will be more tempted to vote for the package.”.

    Jim, you now get it. This has been a political move from the start. Don’t get me wrong – the extra transportation money is desperately needed and the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond has demonstrated its incompetence on transportation funding for 27 straight years.

    McDonnell has a choice – remain intellectually pure, propose innovative legislation and get nothing done (a la Tim Kaine), or …

    Pander to the dimbulbs in the General Assembly and address the issue with less than the best approach.

    McDonnell has (correctly) chosen the latter.

    Now, here comes the tricky part. Yesterday, Senate Republicans handed McDonnell his transportation plan on a silver platter. They railroaded a redistricting bill through the Senate because a single Democratic Senator (Marsh) was attending the inauguration. The 36 page bill was given 30 minutes of debate. Even by RPV standards this was a stupid move. All Virginia Democrats and many Virginia Republicans are furious over this naked power play. Bill Bolling already said he would have voted against the bill if Marsh had been present and it was a tied vote.

    McDonnell has an opening. He tells the Democrats that he’ll veto the bill if, and only if, they “play ball” on transportation. Since control of the state Senate could hang in the balance, the Democrats will deal. They can even suggest / demand modifications to his transportation plan. Remember, McDonnell’s goal is not theoretical purity it’s leaving a legacy of having solved the transportation funding chaos – at least for a while (ten years?). That legacy propels him on his national political career.

    The Republicans are shame faced over their palace coup. Resentment against them is significant. Cuccinelli may have to take them to court on the constitutionality of the measure. Like I said, this was very stupid. They won’t oppose McDonnell’s veto or his brokered transportation deal. If they have any brains, they’ll want this whole sordid matter swept under the rug as soon as possible.

  2. there IS a list with dollars:

    go take a look for your region.

    for my region – Fredericksburg, it looks pretty darn skinny after you past partial funding of a new interchange.

    NoVa looks skinny also.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      But Larry – it’s not a “death march” like the current system. It inflates with a rise in general prices. That alone makes it worthy of consideration.

  3. And let’s make Old Til Hazel pay 59.5% of the cost for his Outer Beltway. If you start feeling sorry for him, recall that it wasn’t that long ago when he said we need two more Outer Beltways.

    If landowners and developers had to pay as much as the Tysons landowners and developer do, our transportation needs would be much less.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Agreed. But it wasn’t the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond that drove the Tyson’s decisions it was the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

  4. I don’ think the first few years, there is going to be a lot more money and even after it slowly starts increasing.. I wonder if it will be dramatically more – probably just enough to be more than nothing.

    one percent sales tax brings in about a billion. the gas tax brings in about 800 million. 200 million does not go that far when stretched across the state.

    The interchange in Stafford is projected to cost about 150 million.

    I took the Fairfax County parkway the other day and it’s not a bad road ..and I notice it’s changed to a primary road designation -SR 286. Does that mean state maintained now?

  5. A. The gas tax hasn’t been changed in eons.

    B. Changing the sales tax will be a yearly event. A mere administrative adjustment. Better be careful what you are rooting for.

    C. The idea of ‘fixing’ the transportation issue is to allow new construction for future roadways. Where do you see new construction in McD’s plan? It’s maintenance. Nothing is fixed.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      I accept A, don’t accept B and accept C (partially).

      The gas tax hasn’t been changed (in cents per gallon) in eons. That’s the problem. Inflation exists whether the General Assembly likes it or not.

      The General Assembly will not change the sales tax rate yearly any more than they changed the gas tax (in cents per gallon) for the last 27 years. However, the sales tax is a percentage of the underlying. So, the General Assembly doesn’t have to suddenly believe in inflation. Inflation will be taken into account since the sales tax (unlike the gas tax) is a percentage.

      The fix is not complete but the bleeding is staunched. Every year the frozen gas tax buys less and less. Soon, even maintenance will be unaffordable.

      When you live in a state with the kind of legislature we have, you can’t ever ask for too much. One small step forward per quarter century is about the pace that the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond can sustain.

  6. re: what the state will or won’t do with the sales tax….

    adjust how much of the sales tax is dedicated to transpo vs education.

    that’s a question.

    will they or not – in future years – be tempted to “adjust” how much of the sales tax is dedicated to transpo and diverted from education?

  7. realistically, unless the General Assembly does something, the regional areas like NoVa and Hampton are not likely to get more than their equal share of transpo money with the operative fly-in the-ointment word being “equal”.

    All things being “equal”, pun intended, any plan for transpo funding at the state level – is not going to be sufficient for NoVa and Hampton Rds needs.

    Can we probably agree on that much?

    If we can – then moving to the next step.

    1. – how likely is it for the GA to think in terms of a state wide tax – dedicated to NoVa and Hampton Rds?

    2. – how much more (or less) likely is the GA likely to think of enabling NoVa or Hampton Rd a regional way to obtain more revenues for their transpo needs?

    Bonus Question: If you live in NoVa or Hampton how reasonable do you think it is to believe that RoVa will agree to pay more in taxes to fund transpo in NoVa/Hampton Rds?

    If you answer the above questions correctly, you have passed Virginia Transpo Politics 101.

    If not – go to congestion hell and wait a while and come back for the retest.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      You need to start watching the actual votes in the General Assembly. So far, gun control was taken to a vote and killed in committee. The question of whether large capacity magazines should be regulated is really more of a rural vs urban / suburban question than a Democratic vs Republican question.

      The only reason RoVa has any power in the General Assembly is because of committee assignments.

      In the particular case of restrictions on high capacity magazines, the five Republican Senators from rural areas killed the bill. By one vote. Had the vote gone to the full Senate or the full House the Republican GA members from urban and suburban areas would have had a very hard time voting against the bill and facing their constituents in the next election.

      Virginia has reached the tipping point. It is no longer a reliably conservative state because it is no longer a heavily rural state. The red to blue shift is a symptom of the more important rural to urban / suburban shift.

      Gerrymandering and arcane committee politics may delay the inevitable but they cannot extinguish the inevitable.

      LarryG – It’s just a matter of time before the opinions of those outside Virginia’s urban and suburban areas won’t really matter much (from a political perspective). Their opinions won’t matter on taxation. They won’t matter on transportation. They won’t matter on education.

  8. McDonnell’s Illustrative Highway Projects can’t be the whole transportation list, can it? There is nothing in it for rail anywhere in the Commonwealth, but the top three items on the earlier, unpriced list were Dulles Metrorail Extension Project, Extension of passenger rail to Roanoke, and Increased train service to and from Norfolk.

    I can only hope that there will be no more Virginia money for the construction of the double-priced money-pit known as the Dulles Rail / Silver Line. We are hearing hints and promises of additional Virginia and US money for this project, even though delegates are saying that Virginia can not afford to put one dime into it, and even though the federal government decided, back in September 2012, to hold up funding for the entire MAP-21 Tifia loan program. (Strange how that wasn’t reported, isn’t it.)

    I really think that the “money on a stick” hints and winks are just a trick to string us along up here, until the Phase 2 Dulles Rail / Silver Line contracts and financing deals are signed, and the ground is broken, whereupon (SURPRISE!!!) we will be told that “Oh, gee, well you have to UNDERSTAND, there’s just no money! Who could have foreseen this? You’ll just have to pay for it yourselves. Maybe next year… maybe next year…”

    As for public opinion mattering – it was long ago said that the people will get the government that they deserve. Never mind for the moment the fact that this Dulles Rail / Silver Line project is obscenely overpriced – if the voting, taxpaying public is happy to allow its ‘leaders’ to approve such enormous projects without firm funding IN PLACE, then why SHOULD their opinions matter?

  9. there’s a separate list for rail:

    re: who rules the committee and committee votes.

    RoVa does by virtue of the fact that the GOP owns the House of D.

    been that way for a long, long time.

    dunno when it will change… as the GOP tends to be RoVa and the Dems tend to be NoVa/HR/etc.

    re: tipping point

    if the GOP succeeds in their latest strategy.. Va may not be reliably blue or red but split. The GOP would like to allocate electoral votes by Congressional District.

    and don’t say it’s illegal because both Nebraska and Main already do just that.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I don’t say that the Republican plan for allocating electoral votes is illegal. I say it is “sour grapes” and indicative of a political party in its death throes.

      Where was this “good idea” when Virginia was reliably “red”?

      The RPV is committing suicide. They can dream up lots of ways to postpone the inevitable but their death as a political party is inevitable … unless – they lose the loons and let guys like McDonnell and Bolling run the show. However, that seem very unlikely to me.

  10. I see metro is asking for a major new dowtown expansion. Where will Virginias share come from? ?

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