FREDERICKSBURG — They’ve got the problem all figured out — it is finding the answer that is proving to be difficult for three regional state politicians.
Sens. John Chichester, R-28th District, and Edd Houck, D-17th District, along with Delegate Bill Howell, R-28th District, met with regional business leaders Tuesday to discuss what the state must do in the upcoming General Assembly session to provide adequate transportation funding.
“We need to look at the whole problem in a new way,” said Howell, the speaker of the House of Delegates, whose district–along with Chichester’s — serves Stafford County.
Howell cited opportunities that could decrease the financial burden on the commonwealth, including public-private partnerships, privatizing state duties such as road maintenance, and in a larger scope re-evaluating the Virginia Department of Transportation’s organizational structure.
“There are a whole lot of ways we can look at it,” said Howell, who has served in the General Assembly since 1988.
All three members of the panel are critical of Gov. Mark R. Warner’s transportation plan because most of the money slotted for road projects would be used to pay off debt and would provide little, if any, immediate relief from gridlock.
Houck replied that the problem can be summed up as a “serious lack of cash.” Northern Virginia is at a crossroads, he said, and the only way out of it will be through higher taxes.
“Let’s not be coy about it,” Houck said. “[Relief] has to come from the public; it has to come from taxes. … These new roads don’t fall out of the sky.”
Currently, 13 percent of VDOT’s budget goes to debt service, the politicians said, and capping debt is sorely needed. The trio added that they support the concept of placing a lock on both the general and transportation trust funds so that monies earmarked for one can’t be shuffled to the other to bail out a particular fund.
Garrett R. Ebling is the managing editor of the Stafford County Sun.