Archived Story

Time for change

Published 9:38am Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In an ongoing attempt to address the Commonwealth’s need for transportation upgrades and funding, Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed everything from tolls to public-private partnerships to scrapping the state gas tax in favor of an increased sales tax.

Now his administration is pushing legislation that will change the makeup of the board that oversees road maintenance and construction projects for Virginia. Del. Thomas Rust (R-Fairfax) last week introduced a bill to increase the 17-member Commonwealth Transportation Board to 20 members while guaranteeing at least two seats for the Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and Richmond regions. Chairman of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors Ken Peterson endorsed the proposal stating that, “historically, the region (Richmond) has been underrepresented on the Commonwealth Transportation Board. We think it’s time for that to change.”

We know exactly how he feels.

Western Tidewater and Southside Virginia, which fall mostly into the 75th District, haven’t had substantial representation since the retirement of 32-year veteran Del. Paul Councill in 2005. Del. Roslyn Tyler, (D-Jarratt), who was elected to replace him beginning in 2006, works hard, but doesn’t have nearly the political clout Councill did. And our lack of political muscle shows.

It would be unreasonable to expect we be awarded equal representation on the Commonwealth Transportation Board as what is afforded the three largest population centers in the state. Frankly, the population of Western Tidewater is bound to be lower than some decent-sized subdivisions in these metropolitan areas.

But when it comes to matters of transportation, Western Tidewater and Southside Virginia will play an important role as the Commonwealth’s transportation needs evolve in the coming decades. It would make sense, then, that we would be included in any meaningful discussion moving forward.

Unfortunately, we are unlikely to be.

The Route 58 corridor, which runs through the heart of our community, has no representation on the board in between Virginia Beach and Danville, a 220-mile stretch of road that will be vital to Virginia’s economic future. As the ports in Hampton Roads expand, Route 58 will be the primary artery used by container trucks traveling to any portion of the southern United States by way of the southbound exits onto interstates 95 and 85.

Richmond, on the other hand, which is vying for two guaranteed spots on the board, will miss most of the increased traffic as it is bypassed on I-295 by northbound traffic and Route 288 by westbound traffic. Certainly, the Capitol region’s transportation needs are more complex than ours. But that doesn’t mean that ours don’t exist.

Western Tidewater has many transportation needs that have long gone unmet. The flyover project planned for Route 58 and Business 35 in Courtland has been on the table for years and was included in the governor’s list of approved projects a year ago, but remains unfunded.

A number of unpaved roads in Southampton County, having long been on VDOT’s radar to be, at the very least, top-dressed, are still covered in dirt and rock. But while a 17-member board decides which projects move forward and which do not, our region has little voice in the decision-making process.

Until we have meaningful local representation at the state level, our situation is unlikely to change.

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