The Virginia Department of Transportation is looking to the 2021 General Assembly to reallocate funding for some of the state’s biggest infrastructure projects after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated its budget.
Virginia was in the midst of several major critical infrastructure projects, including the Long Bridge rail expansion, when COVID-19 hit, noted Shannon Valentine, state secretary of transportation. Those projects were being funded by legislation passed in January that raised the gasoline tax to create funding for transportation projects.
But as the country went into lockdown last spring, highway traffic volume in the Washington area shrunk considerably, as did reliance on public transportation. People retreated to their homes to shelter from the spread of the virus, and many are still teleworking.
Valentine joined fellow transportation leaders from the District of Columbia and Maryland, along with national transportation experts, on Wednesday for the annual Capital Region Transportation Forum to discuss the future of transportation in the Washington area. The virtual event was hosted by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Greater Washington Partnership.
Valentine said the Virginia Department of Transportation projects a reduction of $870 million in funding over the next two fiscal years due to the pandemic.
“For us, facing that kind of reduction is incredibly serious,” she added.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently proposed a budget amendment that would allow the Commonwealth Transportation Board to reallocate money from other transportation projects, which Valentine said would make it easier to fund projects already in the pipeline so they can be completed on time.
“It has been one of the greatest challenges managing all of this,” Valentine added. “Knowing we have all the commitment to get this done, but being uncertain about finances...”
Valentine said she is confident that the 2020 legislation will act as a blueprint for how the state will fund transportation projects in the future.
But Valentine and the other transportation leaders participating in the forum said they also hope more funding from Congress becomes available soon to alleviate the financial burden on transit agencies, such as WMATA, which operates Metro, so these agencies can maintain their workforce critical to providing transportation to essential workers.
Another panelist, Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, said both parties in Congress understand the need for transit relief.
“That’s going to have profound impacts on essential workers who rely on transit to get to work, which is going to have profound impacts on those of us who rely on essential workers, which is all of us, because it doesn't help us to have access to a car to get to an essential service, if the workers we depend on to provide that service aren't there,” she said.