Sen. John H. Chichester, the Stafford County Republican who led this year's campaign to increase spending on Virginia's traffic problems, called yesterday on politicians and the public to rally behind new efforts to finance transportation projects.
Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, delivered a charged speech in Tysons Corner about the need for greater investment, increased coordination with developers on land-use decisions and more creativity in finding solutions.
Sen. John H. Chichester led a failed bid this year to increase funding for projects by $800 million.
"Under current policies and funding constraints, there's no way we can meet the challenge," Chichester told business leaders, lobbyists and elected officials. "I believe the issue is too important to cast aside."
During the 2004 General Assembly session, Chichester proposed raising an assortment of fees to increase transportation funding by $800 million a year, but the plan was dropped during tense negotiations about the budget and taxes.
Chichester said yesterday that he would favor raising a range of "user fees" during next year's session to generate money for major and secondary road and rail projects. But he would not say whether he would pursue a plan as ambitious as his previous one.
He also said developers should bear more of the burden for road costs and perhaps should maintain roads in new subdivisions for five years or more after they are built. Those roads now are turned over to the Virginia Department of Transportation after one year and contribute to the agency's escalating maintenance costs.
Chichester is one of many elected officials looking at ways to solve the state's transportation problems. House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) has appointed a committee of GOP delegates to come up with ideas. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has said he is developing a plan, and others want to raise gas taxes to fund projects.
Two weeks ago, a group of Republican lawmakers from Northern Virginia also came to Tysons Corner to explain their plan to borrow billions against revenue from a tax residents pay on home, life and auto insurance premiums for road and rail projects. Backers said an expected $700 million budget surplus would replace the tax revenue, which goes into the state's general fund.
Chichester blasted that plan, saying that the state should not use general fund money to pay for transportation projects and that commitments already have been made using any excess revenue. He said those funds should go toward cutting food taxes sooner than planned, stopping the practice of making retailers pay some sales taxes early and fulfilling the capital spending needs of colleges.
Addressing concerns from some in the crowd, Chichester said that he would not back off from money-raising efforts even though members of the House of Delegates may be reluctant to take on the tricky issue in a year when they all face reelection.
Some in the audience said they were heartened to hear that the 2005 General Assembly session would focus on transportation issues.
"I have a sense that it's going to get done," said John G. Milliken, an lawyer with Venable LLP and a former Virginia transportation secretary. "People recognize the problem is there, and the issue now is how we resolve it."