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March 28, 2012

MPO remains concerned about changing transportation laws

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board is urging Gov. Bob McDonnell to amend legislation that its members say will take decision-making powers away from localities.
 
HB1248 and SB639 passed both houses of the General Assembly earlier this year.
 
20120328-MPO
The MPO on March 28, 2012
"They require that localities prepare transportation plans to submit to the Virginia Department of Transportation for review, and once [localities] adopt a plan, [they] have to submit that to VDOT as well," said David Blount, legislative liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
 
VDOT's review would determine whether local transportation plans are consistent with the state's six-year transportation plan. If not, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would have the power to withhold funds from localities.
The MPO voted Wednesday to send a letter to McDonnell calling for him to veto or amend the bill.
 
"The proposed language presents a scenario where one side always holds the winning cards, rather than one that promotes a more collaborative partnership," reads the letter signed by City Councilor and MPO Chair Kristin Szakos on behalf of the board.
 
"Since the CTB also has the ability to designate project routes, these provisions seem to usurp local control and to give the state the power to force the insertion of projects into locality plans," the letter continues.
For instance, if a project desired by Albemarle County is not approved by VDOT, the county would have to pay for it itself without state funds.
 
The Western Bypass of U.S. 29 was opposed for many years by the MPO policy board until last summer after the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted to proceed with the project.
 
The bill also allows localities to use VDOT's revenue sharing program for maintenance, pavement resurfacing projects and bridge repair. Currently the program is intended to encourage localities to build new infrastructure.
 
"We are concerned this could be the first step towards devolution of secondary road maintenance and operation to local governments which do not currently have that responsibility," reads the letter.
 
The legislation is also opposed by environmental groups.
 
"We believe that these provisions will allow VDOT and the CTB to punish local governments and communities for raising legitimate objections to a project because of its harmful impacts or for supporting alternative routes or solutions that VDOT doesn't agree with," said Dan Holmes of the Piedmont Environmental Council in a press release.
 
Blount said localities that maintain their own roads, such as Charlottesville, would be exempt from the provisions.
 
The transportation bill would also allow VDOT to sell naming rights for highways, bridges and interchanges in order to raise money for general maintenance and operation.
 
The governor has until April 9 to sign the legislation. The General Assembly will consider any amendments he makes to the bill at a veto session on April 18.
 
Steve Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC, briefed the MPO on federal legislation to reauthorize federal spending on transportation. If both houses of Congress cannot agree on a bill by Saturday, federal funding is in jeopardy.
 
"I'm not sure what we will do next week if we don't have transportation funding," Williams said.
 
In other news, Williams said a process to discuss the possibility of expanding the MPO's boundaries has begun now that the U.S. Census has adjusted the area's urbanized area. That could mean the addition of places such as Ruckersville, Crozet and Lake Monticello to the MPO's jurisdiction.
 
"We're supposed to make sure the MPO planning area includes all of the urbanized area and all those areas within our 20-year planning horizon," Williams said.

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