McDonnell’s transportation pitch seeing support from Northern Va. leaders

While not everyone’s in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s corner when it comes to his vast transportation proposal, the list of Northern Virginia groups praising the plan is continuing to grow.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) announced Friday its endorsement of McDonnell’s plan to nix the state’s 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax and bump Virginia’s sales and use tax nearly one percent.

The governor’s office says the proposal, if adopted by the state legislature, would provide more than $3.1 billion in transportation funding for the commonwealth over the next five years, including $1.8 billion for new construction, ending the state’s crossover dilemma, in which money meant for construction is currently diverted to simple maintenance.

NVTC President and CEO Bobbie Kilberg called McDonnell’s pitch “bold,” saying it’s a “long-term, sustainable and dedicated funding source that will keep pace with Virginia’s economic growth.”

“By proposing this legislation, Gov. McDonnell has elevated transportation funding as a priority issue before the General Assembly this year and provided a specific plan for action. We are optimistic that this year’s legislative session will finally produce the new transportation funds that are critical to supporting the growth of Northern Virginia’s technology economy and the long-term economic health of the Commonwealth,” Kilberg said in a prepared statement.

NVTC is the largest technology council in the nation, representing nearly 1,000 member companies employing 200,000 people in the Northern Virginia region.

McDonnell unveiled his sweeping proposal Jan. 8. He’s urging lawmakers to pass a much-needed, dedicated revenue stream for the state’s congested and depleted roads.

McDonnell’s proposal also specifically calls for allocating an additional $300 million for Phase Two of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, or Rail to Dulles. That $300 million, paired with the $150 million the state has already devoted to the project that extends Metro to the Dulles Airport and into Loudoun, would help keep tolls from soaring along the Dulles Toll Road. The toll road is operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is managing and largely funding Rail to Dulles.

Northern Virginia Transit’s Executive Director Mark McGregor is throwing support behind the plan, as well.

“It’s a huge proposal that secures a dedicated funding source for transportation,” McGregor told the Times-Mirror Friday. “And I want to make clear I don’t always support the governor, I’m not just a lackey. But I support this plan.”

McGregor quoted the oft-used figure of $1 billion as what’s needed to deal with the state’s transportation woes, which are especially severe in Northern Virginia. Veteran state Del. Tom Rust (R-86th) too has used the $1 billion mark as the minimum the state must generate to deal with transportation infrastructure.

“This doesn’t quite get there, but it’s a step in the right direction,” McGregor said.

Still, McDonnell’s comprehensive push isn’t without its detractors.

Stewart Schwartz, the executive director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, considered McDonnell’s pitch from an economic market viewpoint. Calling the proposal “terrible policy,” Schwartz said it sends the market all the wrong signals.

“By removing a user fee under which those who drive more, pay more for the upkeep of our roads, the proposal could increase the amount of driving and the congestion on our roadways … ,” Schwartz said. “The shift to the sales tax punishes the significant numbers of seniors and lower income residents who don’t drive, as well as telecommuters, carpoolers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists who are all helping to reduce our traffic congestion.”

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