VARP home page

Virginia Association of Railway Patrons
Modern Transportation for the Virginias

2006 General Assembly Report

By Michael Testerman

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, spring 2006

Legislature Unanimously Approves Multistate Rail Feasibility Bill

In 2006, legislators passed Rail Solution’s bill to conduct a multistate rail feasibility plan to divert over half of all long-haul through trucks onto intermodal trains in the I-81 corridor. Delegates Ben Cline and James Shuler were chief patrons of the bill. (For details, see “Interstate Route 81 Corridor” below.)

Last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed Rail Solution’s bills to establish the I-81 Corridor Multistate Transportation Planning Initiative (HJ 709 and SB 778, patrons Ben Cline and Russell Potts, respectively).

Thank you, chief patrons: Delegate Ben Cline, Delegate Jim Shuler, and Senator Russell Potts!

Special thanks to freshman Delegate Todd Gilbert, who drew together a broad contingent of I-81 corridor legislators to support a resolution to freeze negotiations with STAR Solutions during the 2006 session. Though the resolution ultimately did not pass, Delegate Gilbert was instrumental in drawing widespread attention to the grassroots opposition to the mega-highway proposal. ((For details, see “Resolutions to Suspend VDOT Contract Negotiations with Star Solutions” below.)

Interstate Route 81 Corridor; diversion of truck traffic (HB 1581, chief patron Benjamin L. Cline). Victory! a very similar bill, HB 446 (chief patron, James Shuler), was rolled into HB 1581. A summary of HB 1581 as passed:

Interstate Route 81 Corridor; diversion of truck traffic. Requires the Commonwealth of Virginia, through the Secretary of Transportation and the Rail Advisory Board, to complete a comprehensive feasibility plan to define the conditions that would be necessary to divert the maximum amount feasible of the long-haul, through-truck freight traffic to intermodal rail in the Interstate Route 81 Corridor. This bill incorporates HB 446 (Shuler).

Resolutions to Suspend VDOT Contract Negotiations with Star Solutions (SJ 165 and HJ 143, patrons Emmett Hanger and Todd Gilbert, respectively). These resolutions started out with identical wording and would have asked VDOT to halt negotiations with STAR Solutions and make specific, immediate improvements for safety and congestion relief. When VDOT told Senator Hanger that it would oppose his bill, he offered to amend it to VDOT’s satisfaction. The resulting legislation was very open ended and unsatisfactory to grassroots rail advocates. SJ 165 passed the Senate but was tabled in the House Rules Committee. Delegate Todd Gilbert withstood a lobbying effort by VDOT and the Virginia Manufacturers Association to insert their language into his bill. Instead, Gilbert made amendments that were more acceptable to the Shenandoah Valley Network, calling for no tolls, limited widening within the existing right-of-way and mainly for truck climbing lanes, greater enforcement, and rail development to divert trucks. Delegates Gilbert and Cline held a press conference on February 2, along with many of the I-81 Corridor legislators, to promote HJ 143. By an 8-7 vote, the House Rules Committee tabled (effectively killed) the resolution on February 8.

Bill to Create a Virginia Rail Development Authority—substitute language to create the TransDominion Express Authority (SB 215, patron John Edwards). This started out as a bill to create a rail authority to develop a rail transportation plan for Virginia and assist in funding this plan. Senator Edwards scaled back his 2006 statewide Rail Authority Bill to apply only to the TransDominion Express passenger rail corridor that runs from Bristol to Washington, DC, and Richmond. This substitute language stood a better chance of passage, over the almost certain death of the Virginia Rail Development Authority bill. Senator Edwards removed all language relating to bonding and eminent domain. The bill would serve as a pilot model for expanding into a statewide authority after details are worked out while getting the TransDominion Express up and running. After passing the Senate and clearing the House Rules Committee, SB 215 was referred back to the House Appropriations Committee from the House floor on third reading. Since the Appropriations Committee will not be meeting again this session, the bill is essentially dead for this legislative session.

Bills to Suspend VDOT Contract Negotiations with Star Solutions (SB 397 and HB 1580, patrons Emmett Hanger and Ben Cline). These bills would suspend contract negotiations for I-81 improvements until construction requirements and funding sources are known. Senator Hanger requested that his bill be stricken in committee. Delegate Cline’s bill was tabled in the House Transportation Committee.