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EDITORIAL: Support regional transportation authority

EDITORIAL: Support regional transportation authority

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PHOTO: Road construction

NORTHERN Virginia has one. So does Hampton Roads. And both use their regional transportation authorities to raise billions of dollars for local road and transit projects that the state can’t or won’t fund. Local officials and business groups in Fredericksburg are now urging the General Assembly to allow this region to have its own regional transportation authority as well.

A bipartisan bill (HB 1910) “to amend the Code of Virginia … relating to the creation of regional transportation authorities” was introduced by Delegates Josh Cole, D-28th District, and Mark Cole, R-88th District. It authorizes “two or more adjacent counties or cities to form a regional transportation authority to engage in regional transportation projects.”

The bill, which passed the House Transportation Systems Subcommittee Thursday on a 9-1 vote, outlines how such an authority would be formed and how it would determine how much local taxes or fees would be contributed by each member jurisdiction.

Of course, that presupposes that the two or more adjacent counties or cities are in general agreement that a) a regional transportation authority is needed; and b) that the revenues raised would be used to support region-wide transportation infrastructure projects that benefit all authority members.

But after the recent dust-ups over the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO) and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, a presumption of regional cooperation may not be warranted.

That’s too bad, because the Fredericksburg region currently has more than $7 billion in unmet critical transportation infrastructure needs for roads, mass transit and rail. The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily eased traffic congestion on Interstate 95 and local primary and secondary roads, but it has bounced back, with evening southbound traffic on I-95 now at “near normal” levels, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The major objection to a local transportation authority is that it will impose higher taxes on local residents, who already pay enough in taxes to the state and federal government. For years, federal and state transportation officials neglected to pay for necessary upgrades on I-95, the most heavily traveled interstate highway in the nation, resulting in 35-plus miles of severe congestion centered in Fredericksburg. A local transportation authority would just slap another tax on already overburdened area residents.

That’s a valid concern. But on the plus side, the estimated $35 million in new revenue the authority raised would be spent right here, not sent to Richmond. And since traffic already negatively affects the region’s quality of life and ability to attract employers, local residents are already paying a steep price in terms of lost time and economic opportunities.

And the Fredericksburg region’s overburdened transportation system will soon be overwhelmed by traffic generated by residential and commercial projects already in the development pipeline. A regional transportation authority would help build projects that have little chance of getting built otherwise.

This bipartisan bill, sponsored by the two Delegates Cole, has a better chance of making it through the General Assembly than similar efforts in the not-too-distant past. Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania officials—who have not been able to agree on much lately—should publicly stand together in support of this legislation.

And their constituents should insist that if it passes, these same officials will work together for the region’s common good.

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