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Governor, Delegate tout bipartisan transportation bills

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Posted at 7:01 AM, Jan 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-15 07:01:21-05

RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk, joined forces to push for two bills aimed at reforming the state’s transportation system.

“We cannot have political roads; we have to have roads and construction that make sense,” McAuliffe said Tuesday as he and Jones met with reporters.

The governor discussed a bipartisan plan to fix problems in the current state guidelines on public-private partnerships to fund transportation projects.

McAuliffe said the proposed expansion of U.S. Route 460 underscored the need for changes involving such partnerships. Last summer, he called a halt to that project after the state spent more than $300 million on it and still hadn’t broken ground.

It has been stymied because the project would affect wetlands and needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

McAuliffe and Jones proposed legislation that would require private entities, instead of the state, to shoulder the financial risk in construction projects such as toll roads.

“The risks should be where it ought to be, and those folks will reap the benefit from the tolling that they put in place,” McAuliffe said.

The governor and Jones also pushed  for a “transportation omnibus package” for Virginia.

“It adds finishing touches to the changes that have happened over the past two years,” McAuliffe said.

The legislation would:

• Pay for repairs of structurally deficient bridges and deteriorating pavements and for other projects the state considers a high priority.

• Change the formula for distributing state transportation funds to local governments. Currently, the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s funding formula focuses on high-priority projects and repairs, not necessarily local needs. The new formula would allow localities to apply for funds within their Virginia Department of Transportation district.

• Provide money for mass transit expenses like replacing aging buses and fixing old facilities. “This is especially important for smaller and rural transit agencies where funds have been particularly tight over the few years,” McAuliffe said.

The General Assembly convened Wednesday for a 46-day session.

Capital News Service is a flagship program of the VCU School of Mass Communications. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.