Bills impacting smart growth at the 2015 General Assembly
Virginia’s 2015 General Assembly session is over. Thank you to all who contacted your legislators! Here’s a quick summary of the wins and losses:
Transit and transportation planning
The best news is that the Governor and legislators found $40 million to start plugging Virginia’s hole in transit funding (HB1887), caused by 2013 legislation that failed to adequately address transit needs. While $40 million won’t solve transit funding problems in Virginia, it’s a step in the right direction. The bill also includes provisions to improve monitoring and repair of existing roads and bridges.
In other good news, HB1915/SB1314, which would have forced officials to use highway-favoring “congestion metrics” in choosing transportation projects, was amended to be less damaging. And a bill partially reforming the Public Private Transportation Act passed, meaning we’ll see more accountability and transparency.
This season, we unfortunately faced cuts to the highly-successful Land Preservation Tax Credit program, lowering caps on the program to $75 million and imposing annual limits (SB1019/HB1828). However, bills that would have undermined conservation easements were defeated, and a budget amendment added $5 million for conservation grant programs: $3 million for the VA Land Conservation Foundation, $1 million for battlefield preservation, and $1 million for farmland preservation. Our partners at the Piedmont Environmental Council have a full update on land conservation legislation.
Bicycling and pedestrian bills (with a transit twist)
Sadly, bill SB882 that would have made dooring (opening a car door into the path of a cyclist) illegal passed in the Senate but failed in the House. Worse, HB2159, proposed repeatedly over many years to require motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks on roads where the legal posted speed limit is 35 mph or below, didn’t even survive a House subcommittee.
Legislators amended bill HB1402, which would make sure local jurisdictions don’t lose state road maintenance funding if they convert road space to bike lanes, to limit the bike provision just to the City of Richmond. But legislators did add a provision that cities and towns which convert a lane to a dedicated transit lane will not lose road maintenance funding. The Virginia Department of Transportation will study applying the bike provisions to all cities and towns over the next year. For a full update on bicycle and pedestrian bills, head over to the Virginia Bicycling Federation.
The bills that passed now go on to the Governor for his signature, prior to taking effect on July 1.
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.