Many of Hampton Roads’ roadways and bridges are old and frequently in disrepair. To make matters worse, existing infrastructure is woefully inadequate to handle growing vehicle volumes.
Resulting rush hour commuter congestion costs from wasted time and fuel — estimated at $693 million for the region in 2010 — are staggering and the situation is expected to become even more dire as transportation funds continue to dwindle. The scenario is laid out in the 2012 “State of Transportation” report compiled by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.
In 2017, the issue is likely to reach crisis proportions when the state’s transportation construction funds are expected to dry up, along with the ability to match federal project dollars. Already, about $500 million in capital improvement funds are taken annually to support highway maintenance.
It’s all closely tied to Virginia’s gasoline tax, a primary transportation funding mechanism that has remained static at 17.5 cents per gallon for more than 25 years — even as its purchasing power has declined by 45 percent.
Public/private partnerships and subsequent tolling are increasingly being trumpeted by state officials as the key to paying for needed highway projects. That has, predictably, soured public opinion and a growing chorus of voices are demanding that the Virginia General Assembly take action. Most recently, a group of about 50 mayors and chairs of boards of supervisors from Hampton Roads to Northern Virginia met to discuss how they could influence lawmakers to head-off the looming crisis by developing a sustainable and dedicated revenue source.
But its not just lawmakers who must steer the state toward a solution. Data suggests commuting habits have overburdened roadways in avoidable ways. Currently, more than four out of five Hampton Roads commuters drive to work alone and half work in a different community than they live. As the rate of solo drivers has grown over the past two decades, use of car pools and public transportation has declined.
The planning organization will discuss the report — and steps to be taken in developing “grassroots” public outreach efforts aimed at confronting the issue — during its regular monthly meeting today in Chesapeake.