History of Virginians for Better Transportation (VBT)
Virginia maintains the third largest highway system in the country—and yet, has continued to face a transportation funding crisis that has spanned decades.
In the early 2000s, it became obvious that the failure to address the transportation infrastructure funding crisis was taking its toll as roadways and bridges fell into extreme despair. There was little to no money for repairs to secondary roadways, nor any new construction projects. A third of the state’s bridges were considered obsolete and in desperate need of rehabilitation. There was a lack of multimodal transportation options. Meanwhile, Virginia’s population was increasing significantly. Consequently, Virginians were spending hours in traffic every day, and wasting hundreds of dollars annually in car repairs due to poor road and bridge conditions.
Virginians for Better Transportation (VBT), a statewide public education initiative, was formed in 2005 to help bring awareness of the transportation funding issue. Spearheaded by the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance (VTCA), VBT was founded as a collaborative and statewide effort by community members as well as business leaders representing various transportation sectors including road, rail, transit and aviation. These transportation experts and many others had realized how a lack of dedicated transportation funding was starting to affect Virginians’ quality of life and the state’s economic stability. They knew that without a solution, Virginians would continue to be impacted in their daily lives in terms of mobility (congestion), connectivity (lack of multimodal solutions), quality healthcare, jobs, education and more. Thus, in early 2006, to communicate the issue on a larger platform, VBT developed and launched the “It’s Time” campaign.
For the next decade, VBT successfully worked to bring awareness to Virginians about the critical need for a long-term, sustainable multimodal transportation funding solution. VBT became known as a credible and factual resource for transportation-related news and information. VBT members worked hard to educate the public about the issue and urge legislators to determine a solution.
In 2012, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was forced to take nearly half a billion dollars out of its construction program to support the cost of maintaining Virginia’s highway system. VDOT also announced that by 2017, the agency would no longer be able to match federal dollars, meaning Virginia would lose out on a large amount of funding opportunities to other states. VBT’s message was coming home to roost.
In 2013, with increasing pressure from VBT, business leaders and the general public, HB 2313 passed in the Virginia General Assembly, providing for more than $2 billion in funding each year through 2018. That funding allowed long-awaited construction projects such as the Charlottesville-Albemarle-based Route 29 solutions, the I-64 capacity improvements in the Hampton Roads area, and Transform 66 in Northern Virginia were started, and others completed. After HB 2313 passed, VDOT was quickly able to begin work on $2.5 billion worth of transportation construction projects. VDOT could also focus on pavement and bridge rehabilitation—two of the most concerning areas around the state. In addition, less money was transferred from construction funds to cover the cost of maintenance.
In 2014, VBT supported the SMART SCALE process to provide an objective way to evaluate transportation projects and allocate Virginia’s limited transportation dollars. That same year, the SMART SCALE process became a law under HB2.
In 2016, after months of reviewing project applications for Round 1 of the SMART SCALE process, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approved $1.7 billion in funding for 163 transportation projects across the state. These projects are now included in the Commonwealth’s Six-Year Improvement Program. In June, the CTB will select the second round of transportation projects that will be funded as a part of the SMART SCALE process.
Even with its success, SMART SCALE showed us that limited resources have consequences and that Virginia’s funding for its transportation system remained at a multimillion-dollar shortfall. Under the second round of SMART SCALE, over $8 billion worth of worthy transportation projects were identified. Yet, only about $1.2 billion was available for funding.
That's why VBT continues to push for more adequate funding. In 2018 and 2019, we advocated for a dedicated funding source for Interstate 81. The resulting bill passed in the General Assembly paved the way for millions of dollars to go not just toward I-81, but all of Virginia's interstates and highways.
Then, in 2020, we worked to increase awareness of the negative impact of Virginia's low gas tax, and the missed opportunities to maintain and rebuild roads and infrastructure. With secondary roads and infrastructure like bridges rating low across the Commonwealth, it was becoming vital to find a funding source specifically for those roadways. Thankfully, a bill was passed to raise the tax to address these growing concerns.