No New Taxes and Building Roads in Virginia

State should put private capital to work solving our transportation problems

It seems the Free Lance-Star’s editors (“The Immobilizers” 7/13/08) are stuck in the fading tradition of funding transportation through gas taxes. With increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles and some that don’t even use gasoline at all, we cannot rely on the gas tax to fund the Commonwealth’s transportation needs. We need new ways to fund transportation.

One of the most promising innovations is the use of public-private partnerships that tap into private sector capital to finance infrastructure, like we’re seeing with the $1.3 billion in private dollars being used to add new lanes to the Capitol Beltway. Virginia’s public private partnership legislation-the Public Private Transportation Act of 1995 — is still considered a national model. It has been used successfully on a handful projects, and to Virginia’s credit, it has had bipartisan support.

Also, Virginia was the early pioneer of using long-term contracting to reduce road maintenance costs and free up tax dollars for other transportation needs. But today we only have a handful of such contracts, while states like Florida are saving millions through similar contracts. Virginia needs to follow suit.

The editors call taxes “a time-proven method of building roads dating to ancient Rome.” Fortunately, some new ideas have come along since that empire fell 1,500 years ago and Virginia can do better by thinking anew. We can start by putting private capital to work solving our transportation problems.

Shirley J. Ybarra
Senior Transportation Analyst, Reason Foundation