ACROSS THE country, states and localities are trying to find money to fix ailing infrastructure. Six states this year have already passed legislation to fund improvements. And nationally, infrastructure has become a rallying cry for policymakers on both sides of the aisle. In Virginia, our biggest infrastructure concern lies in our ability to move around the commonwealth.
The Hampton Roads Chamber has long been an impactful advocate for improving transportation infrastructure in the commonwealth. The fact is deteriorating roads, bridges and other transportation systems put us at an economic disadvantage.
In its most recent Infrastructure Report Card for Virginia, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our infrastructure a “C-,” pointing out that it costs each Virginia driver $556 per year to drive on roads in need of repair. Businesses and industry also rely on efficient transportation to power themselves and the economy.
Our Virginia lawmakers acknowledged this issue in 2013 when they enacted critical legislation to fund road, highway and bridge improvements through regional gas taxes. As painful as it is to raise taxes, it’s more painful to continue undermining the state economy with inadequate infrastructure.
Increasing our concern of our transportation infrastructure is a new proposal in Congress that would increase the beating our roads take. A group of conglomerates is calling on Congress to raise maximum truck weights from the current 80,000 pounds up to 91,000 pounds.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, trucks at today’s weight limit only pay for about 80 percent of the damage they cause, amounting to a $1.9 billion subsidy for heavy truck operations annually. If the federal maximum limit were raised to 91,000 pounds, these bigger trucks would cover only about 55 percent of their damage annually.
This means that the average taxpayer already, in effect, subsidizes heavy truck operations. They pay extra to cover heavy truck damage today and would pay even more if trucks get heavier. Plus, a 2010 study looking at a weight increase to 97,000 pounds found that it would result in 8 million more truck trips on our roads.
At a time when policymakers at every level and in every state are seeking sustainable funding solutions for infrastructure, it makes no sense to allow bigger trucks that would add to our challenges.
A far better solution for the commonwealth is to establish a floor on the regional gas tax as proposed by state Sen. Frank Wagner. A floor on the regional gas tax would add an influx of cash to the transportation budget without increasing tolls or other road usage fees. In 2016 this floor would have yielded another $45 million for our region’s surface transportation system.
The Hampton Roads Chamber urges the region’s General Assembly and Congressional delegations to work together in 2018 to enact a floor on the regional gas tax and keep the current weight limit on the trucking industry.
While the progress of current projects will have a significant impact on improving our commonwealth’s transportation network, the funding requirements far surpass our current revenue streams.
Bipartisan leadership and the support of business and industry are essential ingredients to our region’s success in building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. The Hampton Roads Chamber is working hard to ensure the roads in our region are enablers to efficient business and economic prosperity.
Improving our transportation network is absolutely essential to that end.