For several years, the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and other key stakeholders have been advocating for viable and sustainable traffic solutions. The Chamber’s Regional Transportation Action Committee (RTAC) has been laser focused on elevating the discussion of solutions to state and local elected officials. Their efforts became more poignant in 2017.
In late 2017, Interstate 95, the region’s primary artery for northbound and southbound travel, was ranked as having some of the worst traffic in the entire United States. If any of the nearly 120,000 commuters and commercial vehicle operators were polled, they would echo frustrations with the gridlock.
A key component of RTAC’s effectiveness is constant dialogue with state officials, elected officials, and transportation experts. A local expert is Paul Agnello, administrator for the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO). Agnello reports to the board of FAMPO, which is comprised of local elected officials from the participating counties of Planning District 16, as well as nonvoting members. FAMPO facilitates the regional planning process of transportation projects, and the board of FAMPO is responsible for approving all projects that utilize federal funding.
In a room of transportation advocates, the question, “How do we fix this?” often comes up.
“One of the biggest challenges is funding,” says Agnello. “It’s not that we don’t know what to do. We’re very aware, but there is a dire lack of funding.”
Agnello is not embellishing. His team has crunched the numbers. The Fredericksburg region has over $9 billion in “critical needs,” but the state’s annual transportation budget is around $1 billion.
In order to most effectively and efficiently spend taxpayer funds, the Commonwealth of Virginia established the Smart Scale process to prioritize transportation funding. Under the current framework, the needs in the Fredericksburg region are scored against other massive transportation projects throughout the commonwealth, including the Hampton Roads Bridge and Tunnel, Interstate 66 and Interstate 64 between Richmond and Hampton Roads.
The Fredericksburg region is not without positive news or champions. During the 2018 General Assembly, State Sen. Richard Stuart of District 28 and Delegate Bob Thomas of the 28th District both championed bills to change the Smart Scale prioritization process. Gov. Terry McAuliffe brokered deals of nearly $300 million for Interstate 95 Rappahannock river crossings for both Northbound and Southbound travel as well as potentially $279 million in toll revenues to be spent on I-95 improvements throughout Northern Virginia.
Currently, transportation funding from the state and federal governments is provided through gas fuel taxes. With the rise of hybrid and fully electric vehicles, the system to collect transportation revenue has a dismal outlook. Even with recent investments of nearly $600 million in road infrastructure for the Fredericksburg region, there remains billions of dollars in critical needs today— not to mention improvements and new roads to support the economy of tomorrow. The Fredericksburg region continues to be one of the fastest-growing areas in Virginia with no sign of stopping given the prime location between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The only way forward is continuous advocacy. The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber and RTAC need members to voice their opinions to state officials. To move the region forward, we must improve our transportation infrastructure. —By Kyle Allwine