Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer called on U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) to reconsider his opposition to tolling and public-private partnerships (PPPs), calling these two of the most powerful tools to achieve mobility and economic growth in America. Homer made his remarks Monday before an international gathering of toll agency operators and business partners.
"I believe that Mr. Oberstar had good intentions in writing a letter to the 50 governors opposing further use of PPPs and appreciate the fact that he wants to protect transportation as a public good," Homer said. "However, I disagree with his letter on two major points. First, we need tolling to generate critically needed revenues for transportation. Second, we need tolling to help us manage congestion. There seems to be no recognition by Mr. Oberstar of the need for congestion management, and we will engage him in a debate on this issue."
Homer noted that within days of Oberstar's letter appearing on the desks of governors and many state legislators, newspapers in Richmond emphasized the fact that the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the principal source of federal money for highways, will be broke by 2009.
"There is an enormous amount of naiveté in this country about public-private partnerships. To do something well, you have to invest resources. Public private partnerships help us to do that," Homer said.
Surveying the history of transportation funding in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Homer said, "In the past, we wanted liberation from tolls. Now we want to be liberated by tolls. We look at tolling as a way to liberate us from congestion. We realized that our existing programs were too slow, too expensive and out of touch. We need to make sure that our transportation projects are on time, on budget and professionally managed," Homer said.
"The intermingling of politics and administration has made it difficult to get things done," Homer said. "The solution is to get politics out of the process of executing transportation plans and let those who wear boots make the decisions."
As one example of Virginia's efforts to deliver transportation improvements and mobility faster, Homer recalled the transaction involving the Dulles Toll Road and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "We're in the process of transferring control of the Dulles Toll Road from the state of Virginia to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). Why are we doing this? Because they are insulated from politics. They can make decisions that won't be interrupted by a change of administrations or leadership in the legislature. We know that 50% of the cost of Metro rail improvements in the Dulles corridor will be paid out of toll revenues. That's an appropriate use of those revenues because they are being used to improve mobility in that corridor. We could not make those kinds of improvement without tolling," Homer said.
Homer emphasized the importance of freight transportation and the global economy in his call for more toll roads: "Hampton Roads is growing and becoming one of the largest ports on the East Coast. With the growth of that port, we will soon be putting more than a million additional trucks on our roads each year. What are we going to do with all those trucks? We're going to build new toll roads to help them move throughout the state and region."
"A child born in Virginia has a better chance of succeeding than a child born in any other state in this country," Homer said. "Much of our success in this regard is being driven by globalization. We want to be connected to the global economy. We want to manage it instead of having it manage us. To do both things, we need tolls."
"We have to better understand transportation if we are to thrive and flourish," Homer concluded. "The success of toll roads in Virginia is ultimately about the relationship we have with our customers. It's all about having respect for our customers."