The $6 billion transportation bill approved earlier this year dramatically changed how Virginia pays for its long-term road improvement priorities. The major impediment before it is how to fairly balance appropriations for rural and urban projects in a manner that still addresses the commonwealth's most pressing infrastructure needs.
Hampton Roads, afflicted with some of the worst traffic problems in Virginia, has a vested interest in seeing that challenge is met equitably in order to maximize its economic opportunity. As such, residents here should look favorably on the selection of Aubrey Layne Jr., a Hampton Roads businessman, to serve as transportation secretary under Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe.
The transportation bill signed into law this year represents the most significant legislative achievement of Gov. Bob McDonnell's term. Not only did it mark the first comprehensive roads plan approved in nearly 30 years, it set aside a billion for improvement projects in the Hampton Roads region.
In his campaign for governor, Mr. McAuliffe emphasized transportation infrastructure as a key concern and, when appearing locally, made a point of pledging to help the region's traffic woes. That would be welcome news since the network of tunnels and bridges that help tie together the area's constituent communities routinely turns daily commutes into nightmares.
Now Virginia has its first indication that Mr. McAuliffe intends to fulfill that promise. His selection last month of Mr. Layne puts a local resident in charge of transportation matters, which is good news for Hampton Roads. That Mr. Layne is a Republican also nods to Mr. McAuliffe's determination to assemble a bipartisan cabinet.
In Mr. Layne, the commonwealth will have a seasoned hand at the helm. He chairs the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and has helped lead the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission and the Route 460 Funding Corporation, which is spearheading an effort to create a 55-mile tolled connector to replace the existing highway. While he lives in Virginia Beach, Mr. Layne has ties to both sides of the water, and is president of An Achievable Dream Academy.
He brings to the post an intimate understanding of the traffic problems here. As someone who has waited in miles of traffic to travel from the Peninsula to Southside, he needs no seminar to understand the severity and urgency of the problems here.
Unlike any transportation secretary in nearly 30 years, Mr. Layne will inherit a department with a long-term funding plan to apply toward solutions here. The five-year bill allots $3.4 billion in statewide funding for roads in addition to $1.5 billion for Northern Virginia and $1 billion in Hampton Roads.
Yet, while that will surely help begin to unravel the region's traffic snarls, there are unresolved issues facing transportation funding in the commonwealth. For instance, the legislation altered tax formulas to generate money to tackle big-ticket projects, but there remains a discrepancy between how the state appropriates dollars to cities and counties that Richmond will need to address.
For Hampton Roads, transportation problems can be seen as a complication of geography. With so many people crossing water each day, there are bound to be bottlenecks and back-ups that are all but unavoidable.
However, there are several projects already in the works or under consideration that could significantly change how communities here interact.
Initiatives like the widening of Interstate 64 from Newport News to Williamsburg will provide a higher-volume corridor to the state capital. Other proposals -- making Route 460 a toll road, for example -- are controversial. And still other plans will require the incoming administration to strike a delicate balance, such as the issue of tolls for the Downtown and Midtown tunnels in Norfolk.
With so much at stake, Mr. McAuliffe has done well to select an experienced administrator in Mr. Layne and residents here can be pleased to see a local figure in that role. While both will be judged on results, there is reason for optimism with this solid first step.