Transportation Bills at the 2015 General Assembly
The Virginia General Assembly’s 2015 session kicked off on January 14. Through the end of the session (February 28), we’ll be watchdogging legislation and budget amendments that impact smart growth, transportation, and conservation, and helping you to contact your legislators at key points. What’s on our radar so far?
Threats to land conservation
Virginia’s very successful Land Preservation Tax Credit program is facing significant cuts, even though it has effectively helped Virginians to voluntarily conserve tens of thousands of acres in farms and forests, and helped communities reduce sprawl and the costs of public infrastructure. Opponents of land conservation are also pushing legislation designed to undermine the conservation easement program, impacting the right and ability of private landowners to conserve their land. We’ll be joining with conservation partners across the state to defend this great program.
Because legislation during the past four years didn’t make transit funding a priority, transit now faces significant funding shortfalls. In a state where 65% of the population and gross state product lie within our urban crescent (from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads), and with an aging population in rural areas, Virginia’s transit needs are growing. Yesterday, the Governor announced a package of transportation initiatives including a proposal to shift $50 million per year from ports, aviation, highways, and freight rail to transit. This helps, but we’ll need a long-term solution.
Transportation policy reform
We expect that bills to reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) will try to prevent future disastrous project decisions, like Route 460, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand. This year, proposed reforms to the PPTA include requiring better risk analysis and greater legislative oversight.
Highway advocates hostile to transit investments have tried for many years to make “congestion reduction” the main criterion for selecting transportation projects. Last year, we won important amendments to HB2, which incorporated more balanced criteria that give transit projects a fair chance at funding.
Unfortunately, anti-transit advocates are back this session with a bill to force the evaluation of Northern Virginia transit projects solely under the congestion reduction standard. This would mean the evaluation of these projects would have to ignore the many benefits of transit for moving more people, providing an effective commute option, reducing air pollution, promoting smart growth development, and maximizing walk, bike and transit trips.
Bicycling and pedestrian priorities
We will be supporting bills to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, including anti-dooring bills, bills to make it easier to safely and legally pass cyclists with a 3-foot buffer, and bills to require stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks. We’re also reviewing bills designed to ensure localities don’t lose state funding when they make bike improvements on local streets.
Shared mobility: Standards for Uber, Lyft, and other services
New smartphone-enabled taxi services have hit the scene in cities across the country, offering new options for getting around without owning a car. States are addressing how to properly regulate these services, and Virginia is no exception. Issues include insurance, background checks for drivers, access for the disabled and those without credit cards, and use of hybrid or other high-efficiency vehicles. We support these important new services for Virginia, assuming key issues are addressed.
It seems that each year brings new bills pushing for new Potomac bridges far upstream from the American Legion Bridge. New bridges have the potential to impact Great Falls, Reston, and eastern Loudoun, fueling more sprawl and diverting funds need for investing in transit and fixing the American Legion Bridge. Each year, we’ve won bipartisan support to stop these bills. We’ll see if they pop up again.
Want to make your voice heard in Richmond?
Whether you want to act on the issues above, want to learn how to most effectively lobby your representatives, or just want to get more involved, consider joining us in Richmond at the Virginia Conservation Network lobby day on January 26, or the Moms Clean Air Taskforce Summit on February 19.
We’ll be keeping close tabs on these issues and more throughout the session, and will update you with opportunities to make your voice heard as the session goes on. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can look up legislation here and identify your legislators here. But we’ll make it easy throughout the session with our alerts, which will link you automatically to your legislators.
Looking for our 2014 Legislative Session page? Find it here.
I-66: VDOT Pressure on Arlington
Even though Arlington has demonstrated the phenomenal transportation benefits of linking transit and development, VDOT highway engineers and some non-Arlington officials are pressing ill-conceived highway expansion on the community.
VDOT has pressed to widen I-66 one-step-at-a-time toward a possible expansion of the entire highway to six lanes, despite a federal commitment to limit the road to four lanes and despite the fact the traffic will have nowhere to go once it hits D.C.’s streets. VDOT has ignored more cost-effective solutions to relieve traffic including converting to HOV-3 from HOV-2, HOV in both directions, express bus service, and how the shift of new development to the Metro Silver Line stations will help shift workers to transit.
In the I-95/395 corridor, VDOT is pursuing a privatized toll lane proposal without having analyzed alternatives and potentially undermining HOV and bus service in the corridor.