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Regional planning agency seeks seat on transportation board

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The Richmond region wants another seat at the table when Virginia divides a dwindling pot of money for road construction.

Adding an at-large seat for the region on the Commonwealth Transportation Board is the top priority of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission in the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.

Local officials say the Richmond and Petersburg area has never held an at-large seat on the state board, only a representative for the regional construction district, and has gotten short shrift in road funding as a result.

"We have 7 percent of the vote and 15 percent of the population," said Hanover County Planning Commissioner C. Harold Padgett, "so our suspicion is we may not be getting our fair share of money."

Padgett, speaking Wednesday at the commission's annual legislative breakfast, said part of the problem is an archaic definition of urban and rural areas that has diminished opportunities for representation of the region on the highway board.

Del. Christopher K. Peace, R-Hanover, outgoing co-chair of the Capital Region Caucus, will sponsor legislation to change the definition of an urban area and add a third at-large seat for the region on the state board.

The Greater Richmond area is only one of the state's three largest urban areas not to have an at-large seat on the board.

"We should have the opportunity for a greater seat at the table," Peace said Wednesday in an interview.

"It's not taking anything away from anybody," he added.

Currently, the Commonwealth Transportation Board includes two at-large members from rural areas, two from urban areas and one at-large representative statewide.

However, the law defines those areas using the "standard metropolitan statistical area" once used by the U.S. Census to delineate metropolitan areas broadly to include rural counties.

The proposed change would require the urban at-large representatives to live in "metropolitan planning areas with population greater than 200,000" — applicable to Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond-Petersburg and Fredericksburg.

The rest of the regional commission's wish list includes:

  • more federal money for developing high-speed passenger rail through Virginia;
  • financial help for localities in meeting federal water-quality standards for watersheds;
  • restoration of homeland security funding in the region that has been cut in the federal budget; and
  • approval of a proposal to allow localities to use federal historic tax credits to renovate historic school buildings for use as public schools.

That wish list will depend in large part on federal funding that appears likely to diminish rather than expand, as Congress wrestles with thorny issues of paying for continuing tax cuts while reducing the budget deficit, said Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-3rd, the keynote speaker at the legislative breakfast.

"This is simple, zero-sum game arithmetic," Scott said. "We've to make some choices."

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