This past session, the General Assembly laid the groundwork for improvements in how the Richmond region funds its transportation needs.
We wholeheartedly supported the creation of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority (CVTA). The new body will finance projects in Richmond, Ashland and the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Goochland, Powhatan, New Kent and Charles City. The mechanisms to fund the CVTA include a 7.6-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase (in effect as of July 1) and a 0.7% regional sales tax increase (beginning Oct. 1).
“Localities cite long lists of projects that include deferred maintenance, improvements and expansion,” said our February editorial on the CVTA. “The authority would generate much-needed funding to let the region build roads, expand transit and fix other infrastructure. It is not so much about public transit as it is about transportation.”
Less than two months later, that final sentence took on new meaning. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to changing habits in how we move around the Richmond region.
Discussions about building a downtown economy around the Pulse bus line have shifted to free trips for essential purposes. Visions for the Ashland-to-Petersburg bike trail now are accompanied by heavy demand at local bicycle shops. And without a clear timeline on a vaccine for the coronavirus, we agree with expectations set by Richmond 300 in its recent survey, “Land use planning for a post-pandemic society.”
“We are probably still too close to this pandemic to truly understand its effects on the built environment,” the survey introduction said. But the questionnaire is a “conversation starter” on “behavioral shifts in how individuals, households, and businesses use and relate to Richmond’s built environment.”
Richmond 300 asks important questions. How will population growth change over the next decade? Will single-family homes and even apartments include dedicated office spaces? Which local employment sectors will rebound fastest? Will remote work be temporary or permanent? Are smaller shuttles and car pools as effective as buses every 10 minutes? How do we juggle spending on bike lanes and sidewalks, a new public transit terminal or the upkeep of pavement on local highways?
None of these questions can adequately be answered before a better timeline and understanding of the virus emerges. But to properly steward precious CVTA dollars, these issues need to stay front and center. We hope the work by organizations like Richmond 300 to amplify community feedback will lead to better, more informed decisions.
— Chris Gentilviso