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Northern Va. leaders seek gas tax hike to fund roads, transit

WASHINGTON — In a bid to draw in more funding for Northern Virginia’s road and transit systems, several agencies and governments in the region want the General Assembly to raise local gas taxes.

“We simply think it’s correcting an oversight, but there are those who view it the other way,” says Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne at a Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting last month.

In 2013, Virginia transitioned from a set gas tax-per-gallon system to a sales tax system. The statewide taxes included a floor, so that the tax could rise but not fall. But there wasn’t a similar provision for the previously existing regional gas taxes meant to help alleviate congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

As a result, regional funding available to local governments has fallen dramatically.

Layne backs setting a minimum level for the regional gas taxes. Currently, the local gas tax is at 2.1 percent.

“There is a difference of opinion in the legislature whether or not that is going to happen this year or not,” Layne says. “There are some, regardless of party, who said we should fix it. There are others that say they are opposed.”

Gary Garczynski, a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, says the floor could be a “lifeline” that would allow the region to fund more much-needed transportation projects.

Virginia Railway Express CEO Doug Allen is also among those advocating setting a minimum that would maintain key funding, even if gas prices remain low.

Opponents of the proposed change see it as an unnecessary tax hike.

Regardless of what happens in the legislative session, which begins Jan. 13, VRE plans to have a long-range financial plan completed in the next few months.

“Our agenda includes the floor on the gas tax … beginning the process of trying to identify additional funding for VRE capital and operating expenses that we’re anticipating. We also will be looking at modifying some contracting law,” Allen told the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission on Thursday.

Plans are moving forward for an eventual 11-mile extension of VRE service on the Manassas line, to Gainesville and Haymarket. The stretch of Norfolk Sothern track that would be used would need to be widened from the current single track, so any new VRE service is years away.

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