Update from Richmond

2.5.16

The pace of activity in the General Assembly is increasing, mindful that all House of Delegates bills that will continue to the Senate must pass the House by February 16th, known as “Crossover Day.” Similarly, Senate bills that will continue in the House must pass by the 16th.

There has been considerable activity this week on transportation bills, especially related to tolling. HB 1, a bill I introduced related to tolling I-66 inside the Beltway, was approved by a subcommittee of the Transportation Committee. The bill specifies that widening I-66 inside the Beltway should commence as soon as possible, allowing for tolling on additional lanes, and only for single occupancy vehicles during the morning and evening peak periods. Governor McAuliffe’s current plan is to begin tolling in 2017, and then wait at least five years before considering the widening of the road.

HB 722, another bill I introduced, was also considered in a transportation subcommittee, and failed to advance on a tie vote. HB 722 would prohibit future tolling in Northern Virginia on any road that is not an interstate highway. As a practical matter, it would prohibit future tolling on Rt. 28, Fairfax County Parkway, Rt. 50, Rt. 29 and similar roads. While there are presently no plans to toll these roads, I believe it is important that we set limits to how much tolling will be permitted in Northern Virginia in the long term. One reason why many people are surprised by the extent of our tolling system today is because limits were not set previously.

You may wonder why a bill like HB 722 did not pass. One reason is that representatives of the Northern Virginia business community testified against the bill, as did a representative of the Fairfax County government, on the basis that we need to “keep transportation options open” in the future. In particular, their testimony brought to light that there is some consideration being given by the Fairfax County government to toll Fairfax County parkway at some point in the future.

Related to this issue, legislation was introduced at the request of Governor McAuliffe, HB 1069, that would place some restrictions on tolling statewide. This legislation would prohibit tolling on existing lanes of roadways, but would continue to allow tolling on new lanes without the consent of General Assembly. I voted against this bill when it passed the Transportation Committee 16-4 because it would allow tolled lanes to be added to Fairfax County Parkway and other non-interstate roads.

In my view, we need to remember that taxes were raised in 2013 to pay for transportation projects. While tolling some Interstate highways like the Beltway has reduced congestion without waiting to round up large sums of tax dollars to pay for these mega-projects, I believe Northern Virginia has gone far enough with existing and planned tolling. It’s unlikely that HB 722 will be considered further this year. But the bill has brought to light varying opinions about the extent of future tolling in Northern Virginia. This should continue as a topic of public discussion in our region.

Of course, the General Assembly is addressing a wide range of issues including education, economic opportunity, and health care as well as clarifying the law regarding offering private homes and rooms for rent through AirBnB and similar web services. I’ll have an update on these matters next week.

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