Virginia sec transport Homer says tolls and PPPs vital for mobility, eco growth

May 28, 2007
By Peter Samuel
Pierce Homer, Virginia's secretary of transportation thinks James Oberstar and Pete DeFazio of the US Congress are full of baloney in their attacks on tolls and concessions. They need to reconsider their position he said at an IBTTA conference in Richmond Virginia earlier this week.

Homer is an appointee of Democrat Governor Tomothy Kaine, but toll concessions or PPPs have been pursued for about twenty years in Virginia under governors of all political affiliations with  bipartisan legislative support.

State officials are amused at the derogatory comments by US congressmen at long accepted PPP practice in many states.

Homer told toll industry attendees there is "tremendous naivety in the country" about private concessions but in Virginia's experience they been "a major force in helping Virginia deliver more projects on budget, in shorter timeframe, and with results that please the customer - those who drive on Virginia's roads."

Getting some of the politics out of road service helped: "The intermingling of politics and administration has made it difficult to get things done.  The solution is to get politics out of the process of executing transportation plans and let those who wear boots make the decisions."

Of the Oberstar/Fazio letter he said: "I believe that Mr Oberstar (chair of the US House transport committee) 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. 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 said it was striking that within days of the Oberstar letter (also signed by highways chairman Pete DeFazio, Dem- Oregon) there were reports that the federal highway trust fund, dependent on federal gasoline and diesel tax, will be unable to fund the present limited program of federal grants to the states by 2009.

The Virginia secretary said the toll industry "offers us a way to get things done in a shortened timeframe."

"You can help us capture a vision to finance and fund transportation.  Once the major planning decisions are made, then it's time to get the politics out of the execution of the project.  That's one of the strengths of your industry."

Tolls have a long history in helping Virginia get the road it needed though in the days of cash collection "we wanted liberation from tolls."

"Now," he said, "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 to 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."

Secretary Homer also referred to 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."

Secretary Homer concluded: "We have to better understand transportation if we are to thrive and flourish.  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."

(CREDIT: This draws heavily on an account from Neil Gray of IBTTA)

TOLLROADSnews 2007-05-26

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