The best and worst in transportation in 2014

roads-newAfter an unprecedented 2013 General Assembly Session, when transportation funding in Virginia was reborn after more than two decades,  2014 struggled to compare.

There were, however, according to AAA’s Annual Report Card – The Best and Worst in Transportation – 2014 for Virginia, some victories for  motorists in the commonwealth.

 

THE BEST IN TRANSPORTATION – 2014

The Free-fall in Gasoline Prices. American consumers are saving $200 million per day on gasoline purchases, compared to a year ago. Putting that into perspective, AAA estimates drivers are saving more than 400 million dollars each day compared to the highest price point paid earlier this year, when pump prices soared to $3.70 per gallon in late April. AAA expects gas prices could drop by another 15 to 20 cents by New Year’s Day. It is a big Christmas bonus for 89.5 million Americans, including 2.5 million Virginians, traveling to their holiday destinations by vehicle at Christmastime. If the trend continues into the New Year, gasoline prices could fall to their lowest levels since the Great Recession.

Transparency in Transportation Project Prioritization: HB2, passed by the 2014 General Assembly and effective on July 1, 2014, mandates the establishment of a transparent prioritization process for the funding of transportation projects in the commonwealth. Projects, funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board will be rated on their effectiveness. This will provide “an objective and quantifiable analysis that considers, at a minimum, the following factors relative to the cost of the project or strategy: congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality.” The change will help ensure that Virginia’s cherished transportation dollars are spent wisely.

Traveling Along I-95 Gets Easier. Covering nearly 30 miles through the most congested terrain in Northern Virginia, the new 95 Express Lanes are game-changers. They will change the way  motorists, car-poolers, and owners of hybrid vehicles commute on one of the busiest highways on the Eastern Seaboard and will clear the way for others traveling to and through the area. Gone are the traditional HOV lanes.  Hail the E-ZPass®.  The project converted the venerable HOV facility into Express Lanes. Actual tolling starts December 29.  Its very existence disproves the notion in some circles that more roads won’t solve traffic problems on I-95 in Northern Virginia. Depending on the spot, daily traffic volumes range from 77,900 to 231,000 vehicles, including nearly 14,000 tractor-trailers. Meanwhile, volume on a kindred project in Northern Virginia, the 495 Express Lanes increased to an “average of 43,170 workday trips for the September 2014 quarter. It comprises a 14.9 % increase from 37,574 daily trips in the September 2013 quarter.

Hi-Yo, Silver Line! Away for Northern VA! Nothing proves the immediate success of the Silver Line, the largest expansion of the region’s rail system in more than two decades, more than the passion of Black Friday shoppers flocking aboard the line to the Tysons Corner Center to shop until they dropped. Some retailers reported double-digit percentage increases in weekend sales, compared to a year earlier. The 11.7-mile Metrorail extension, which encompasses five new Metrorail stations, debuted in July. The Silver Line ferried nearly 220,000 passengers during its first week of operation alone.

Traffic Deaths Decline. Traffic deaths declined nearly five percent in the first quarter of 2014, compared to the same period during 2013, according to early estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Still, an estimated 6,800 died in motor vehicle crashes in this country during that time, compared to a projected 7,150 in the first quarter of 2013. Last year, 65 pedestrians and seven bicyclists died in crashes in the Washington metro region, according to the Street Smart Campaign.

 

THE WORST IN TRANSPORTATION – 2014

Massive Airbag Recall. The list of manufacturers and makes and models kept growing during the year. The massive recall of Takata airbags impacted 14 million vehicles sold in the United States and covered nearly two dozen makes and models. It also unnerved the psyche of millions of vehicle owners across the country and potentially threatened their safety and well-being. The trouble is some owners may not know their airbags need to be replaced. That’s why AAA supports a nationwide recall of the trouble-plagued airbags. Our rationale: vehicles are often bought and sold across state lines, so it is in the best interest of consumers to expand this recall to all states. Some area motorists say they are worried if their air bags are faulty and whether they will explode or rupture in the case of a collision, hurling shrapnel into the passenger cabin with such a force that maims or kills. The episode illustrates how the recall system needs to be overhauled in this country. AAA fully supports legislative proposals that call for reforms to strengthen the recall process, increase penalties for inaction by manufacturers, and clarify additional NHTSA oversight responsibilities.

The 460 Flop: Taxpayers dollars were spent recklessly for a new U.S. Route 460 corridor improvement, a 55 mile toll road which was to run form Suffolk to Petersburg. The problem: required federal permits were not in hand when the Commonwealth began paying the contractor for work on this project. The $1.4 billion dollar project, approved by the McDonnell administration will likely never become a reality is it would require the destruction of more than 400 acres of wetland. The price tag for the “ghost” road that will never come to fruition: $300 million.

Transportation Funding Plan Suffers Reductions:  Transportation funding is up thanks to HB 2313 but forecasted revenue is down due to lower gas prices.. When HB 2313 passed the General Assembly, many analysts forecasted a continued increase in the price of gasoline, which would lead to significant transportation revenue from the gas tax. Low gas prices are, however, reducing the overall revenue that is needed for fixing and building roads in the Commonwealth.

Gas Tax Increases in 2015: The 2013 transportation funding bill (HB2313) also included a provision to increase the wholesale tax on gasoline in Virginia if the federal government did not pass the Market Place Equity Act  to allow states to collect a sales tax from retailers in other states. As the bill, also commonly referred to as the internet sales tax bill, failed to pass, there will be an automatic increase of 1.6% (from 3.5% to 5.1%) on Virginia’s wholesale gas tax on January 1, 2015. This change will likely result in an increase of approximately five cents per gallon at the retail level. At  current gas prices, Virginia motorists will still be paying less tax on gasoline then they were before HB2313 passed.

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