Hampton Roads Transportation Planning

a pre-World War II postcard shows the James River Bridge, linking Isle of Wight County to what is now the City of Newport News
a pre-World War II postcard shows the James River Bridge, linking Isle of Wight County to what is now the City of Newport News
Source: Boston Public Library, Newport News -- James River Bridge

In Hampton Roads, decision-making is balkanized. Leaders in different cities and counties have difficulty setting priorities other than "my jurisdictions first." Even the coordination organizations are hard to coordinate.

The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) was created in the 1970's, after the Federal government mandated that all urbanized areas with a population greater than 50,000 people coordinate transportation planning. Metropolitan Planning Organizations must create long-range (20-year) metropolitan transportation plans.1

The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC), Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO), and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC), coordinate priorities for the region. Membership varies between those organizations.

Some local jurisdictions belongs to the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization and coordinate transportation planning, meeting a Federal requirement to obtain funding. Different local jurisdictions belong to the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission and coordinate transportation planning, to allocate the special revenues in the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.

Gloucester County, for example, is part of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) but was not included in the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC). Since Gloucester County is not one of the jurisdictions authorized by the General Assembly in 2013 to increase taxes for transportation projects, it does not vote on how to use Hampton Roads Transportation Fund revenues.2

In contrast, in 2013 the General Assembly included Southampton County and the City of Franklin as members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC), even though they are not members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO). Those two jurisdictions do have access to the extra revenues in the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.3

Surry and Southampton counties, plus the City of Franklin, belong to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC)
Surry and Southampton counties, plus the City of Franklin, belong to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC)
Source: Hampton Roads Planning District Commission

Surry and Southampton counties, plus the City of Franklin, belong to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) but are not part of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO)
Surry and Southampton counties, plus the City of Franklin, belong to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) but are not part of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO)
Source: Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, At-a-glance…

Gloucester County is not part of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC) and gets no revenue from the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund created in 2013 - unlike Southampton County and the City of Franklin
Gloucester County is not part of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC) and gets no revenue from the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund created in 2013 - unlike Southampton County and the City of Franklin
Source: Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC)

Surry County belongs to belong to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and participates in regional initiatives, but is not part of either the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization or the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission.4

Surry County's involvement in transportation planning is limited, and it has few road projects or needs that would affect nearby jurisdictions. Only a tiny portion of Surry County is crossed by US 460, one of the roads expected to be improved with revenues from the 2013 tax increases.

very little of US 460 crosses Surry County
very little of US 460 crosses Surry County
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance jurisdictions (2014)
Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance jurisdictions (2014)
Source: Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance

the City of Williamsburg is not included in the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce jurisdictions (2014)
the City of Williamsburg is not included in the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce jurisdictions (2014)
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce jurisdictions includes Mathews County - and Currituck County in North Carolina (2014)
the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce jurisdictions includes Mathews County - and Currituck County in North Carolina (2014)
Source: Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce

jurisdictions included within Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (2014)
jurisdictions included within Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (2014)
Source: Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization

Southampton, Surry, and Franklin belong to Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (2014)
Southampton, Surry, and Franklin belong to Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (2014)
Source: Hampton Roads Planning District Commission

Gloucester County does not belong to the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (2014)
Gloucester County does not belong to the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (2014)
Source: Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission

For decades, the political conflict between "North" Hampton Roads and "South Hampton Roads" blocked efforts to get additional transportation funding from the General Assembly. In the eyes of Hampton Roads officials on both sides of the water, Northern Virginia and other regions were able to direct transportation funding to their projects, but southeastern Virginia projects were rejected due to the lack of regional consensus on priorities.

In 2013, the state legislature authorized a 0.7% sales tax increase plus a 2.1% increase in the fuel tax in Hampton Roads. The new taxes were part of a major increase in transportation funding statewide, passed in a law known as "HB 2313." HB 2313 was expected to raise $8-10 billion in additional revenue over the next 20 years for the new Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.

In 2013, the governor and legislature found the political compromise needed to raise taxes for new transportation projects, and did so consistent with the Constitution of Virginia. The legislature approved new taxes for the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions in HB 2313, but Richmond and nearby jurisdictions in the Central Virginia region were unable to cooperate and get that authority for new taxes.

The state legislature gave the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional organization created in 2002, authority to allocate funds to regional projects in that area. An equivalent Hampton Roads Transportation Authority had been created in 2007, but it had been abolished after the Virginia Supreme Court blocked the 2002 effort to raise regional taxes for transportation.

After passing HB 2313, the General Assembly could have given the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization control over the new revenue. That organization's track record for resolving regional conflicts and making decisions on transportation priorities was poor, so in 2014 the General Assembly created a new political mechanism. The 23-member Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission was given control over the new Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.

The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission did not gain control over all transportation funding; the cities retained their traditional funding for maintainence of roads and bridges. The new HB 2313 taxes did re-set the political debates, however. By deciding which projects would be funded from the new transportation tax, the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission gained the power to steer decisions on new construction.

The agency can also set tolls on different projects, providing a way to balance the impacts so each jurisdiction suffered a fair share. To ensure funding priorities are not too biased towards one part of Hampton Roads, the commission requires 2/3 of elected officials, representing 2/3 of the region's population, to approve projects.

The governor made clear even before the first official meeting of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission that regional officials were now accountable for solving the regional transportation challenges. With the new taxes and a new group for making decisions, Hampton Roads leaders were challenged to go beyond standard political rhetoric and to resolve long-recognized problems:5

[N]o more blaming Richmond... No more complaining, whining, bickering. You all need to get together. This is your decision now. Make the decisions. And make them smart, make them quickly, and do it in a manner that, number one, opens up the area for economic development and, number two, eases congestion.

At the commission's first meeting, however, it took nine votes before the members could elect the chair (the mayor of the City of Chesapeake) and five votes to choose the vice-chair (a state senator). A reporter noted that the commission was structured so the jurisdictions with the largest populations have more voting authority, but:6

even a coalition of the region's largest cities will still need support from their smaller counterparts as they attempt to reshape Hampton Roads' transportation network.

Virginia Port Authority terminals in Hampton Roads
Virginia Port Authority terminals in Hampton Roads
Source: Virginia Port Authority

Portsmouth in particular has felt aggrieved by the decisions of state officials. Under the state the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA), the Virginia Department of Transportation contracted with a private company, Elizabeth River Crossings, to build a second Midtown Tunnel (as well as improving the Downtown Tunnel and extending the Martin Luther King Freeway).

Tolls were re-established on Downtown and Midtown tunnels in 2014, helping to finance the second tube for the Midtown Tunnel. All of South Hampton Roads will benefit from the expanded transportation capacity - but because jobs are concentrated east of the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth residents commuting to work will pay 6-8 times more in tolls than residents in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.7

An analysis that compared the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission identified parochialism as the biggest challenge in southeastern Virginia:8

Northern Virginia has the cooperation to pursue projects, but can't agree on which projects to pursue. Hampton Roads, meanwhile, has nearly unanimous agreement on the projects it needs to pursue, but can't cooperate.

A lobbyist for new highway projects in Northern Virginia suggested that the cooperation in the DC suburbs was due to a unified business community that pressured elected officials to work together on long-term objectives, rather than fight for local improvements that could be cited during re-election campaigns:9

The thing that I think separates the business community and sometimes public officials... is the business community recognizes the interrelationship that needs to exist in a regional economy... It's not like Norfolk has an economy and Newport News has an economy. It's a regional economy and it's dependent on the ability to move people, goods and services... The business community can see that.

The new Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission chose to create a separate staff, independent from the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. The alternative was to hire one executive director and have that person be accountable to three separate boards, an approach considered unrealistic by the state delegate who sponsored creation of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission.

As a result, three separate agencies (Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission) coordinate transportation projects and priorities for the region.10

The most expensive transportation project proposed for the region is a "Third Harbor Crossing" of the Hampton Roads harbor, to connect the Peninsula to South Hampton Roads. Officials on the Peninsula advocated for an expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64) linking Norfolk and Hampton. Support on the southern side of Hampton Roads was stronger for the third crossing, renamed the "Patriot's Crossing" option.

The Patriot's Crossing proposal includes an east-west bridge-tunnel connecting the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel to Norfolk, plus a north-south road in the middle of the new bridge-tunnel that would cross Craney Island to connect to I-64 in Portsmouth.

Hampton Roads

Ports in Virginia

Railroad Access and Hampton Roads Shipping Terminals

Patriots Crossing, as proposed
Patriots Crossing, as proposed
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Patriot's Crossing

References

1. "The Transportation Planning Process Briefing Book - Part I: Overview of Transportation Planning," Federal Highway Administration, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/publications/briefing_book/part01.cfm#Toc420927559 (last checked September 23, 2016)
2. "Member Locations," Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, http://www.hrtpo.org/page/member-locations/ (last checked September 23, 2016)
3. "HRTAC Members," Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, http://hrtac.org/page/hrtac-members/ (last checked September 23, 2016)
4. "Officers and Members," Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, http://www.hrpdcva.gov/page/officers-and-members/ (last checked September 23, 2016)
5. "McAuliffe: Make decisions, not excuses about roads," The Virginian-Pilot, April 18, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/node/713650 (last checked April 18, 2014)
6. "Area transportation board names chairman after 9 votes," The Virginian-Pilot, July 3, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/07/area-transportation-board-names-chairman-after-9-votes (last checked July 16, 2014
7. "ODU professor: Tunnel tolls will hit Portsmouth hardest," The Virginian-Pilot, January 15, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/01/odu-professor-tunnel-tolls-will-hit-portsmouth-hardest (last checked April 3, 2014)
8. "Transportation Authority: How does Hampton Roads get beyond its parochialism?," Inside Business - Hampton Roads Business Journal, August 1, 2014, http://pilotonline.com/inside-business/news/maritime-and-transportation/transportation-authority-how-does-hampton-roads-get-beyond-its-parochialism/article_ed0ab4ae-f536-58af-b083-d87fc1067d7d.html (last checked September 21, 2016)
9. "Transportation Authority: How does Hampton Roads get beyond its parochialism?," Inside Business - Hampton Roads Business Journal, August 1, 2014, http://pilotonline.com/inside-business/news/maritime-and-transportation/transportation-authority-how-does-hampton-roads-get-beyond-its-parochialism/article_ed0ab4ae-f536-58af-b083-d87fc1067d7d.html (last checked September 21, 2016)
10. "Regional transportation group votes to hire separate executive director, staff," Newport News Daily Press, August 21, 2014, http://www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-hrtac-0822-20140822,0,2489084.story (last checked August 23, 2014)

in 1755, there were few roads south of the James River
in 1755, there were few roads south of the James River
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina (by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, 1755)


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