Tuesday, December 27, 2016

From the Archives: Former Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shirley Ybarra discusses rail, roads, and HOT lanes

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on June 25, 2010. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Former Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shirley Ybarra discusses rail, roads, and HOT lanes

Now a senior transportation analyst at the Reason Foundation, Shirley J. Ybarra served as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia during the administration of Governor James Gilmore. She previously served as deputy secretary under Governor George Allen.

Ybarra attended a luncheon seminar at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on June 25, where the topic was high speed rail. After the presentation ended, she spoke briefly with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on transportation issues facing Virginia.

The biggest single issue she identified is “congestion, particularly in Northern Virginia,” adding that in “the Virginia Beach area, same issues. It’s road congestion, quite honestly.”

To address the congestion problem, Ybarra said, “we’re seeing some solutions in Northern Virginia, with the Beltway HOT lanes and,” eventually, “the I-95/395 corridor HOT lanes.” She noted that those high-occupancy toll lanes are “not just for cars; that puts bus rapid transit on those HOT lanes also.”

High-Speed Rail in Virginia?
As to whether there is a role for high-speed rail (HSR) in Virginia, Ybarra said probably not.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to find a role for high speed rail,” she said. “A project that was started when I was Secretary was something called ‘the Third Rail’ between Washington and Richmond.

“That was because they were using the freight railroad tracks and they needed sidings and a new bridge down by Fredericksburg and that would allow the passenger trains not to be delayed by the very long freight trains like the ‘Juice Train’ that goes through right at the time it’s needed for the VRE service,” that is, the Virginia Railway Express commuter line. VRE, which runs from Manassas in the west and Fredericksburg in the south to downtown Washington, pays “freight railroads for the use of the tracks,” Ybarra explained, “because it is their track.”

McDonnell Administration Efforts
Assessing the successes and failures of the administration of Governor Bob McDonnell in transportation so far, Ybarra said “they are certainly trying to continue with public-private transportation acts, or what the rest of the world calls, public-private ventures, to bring some of the capacity and the private sector into road building,” as well as in transit.

One obstacle facing the McDonnell administration is that has substantially smaller budget “available than I did so they need to bring in the private sector and I know [the governor is] pushing that.” She noted that public-private ventures in transportation were part of McDonnell’s campaign platform and that suggestions to refine that promise have come out of a recent study commissioned by the administration.

Moreover, Ybarra added, McDonnell will be “putting in a dedicated group of people” to study transportation issues, “which we were unable to do when I was there. We all just did our regular job plus that job” of looking into future solutions for transportation problems.

“I think the dedicated group of people will help” in policymaking efforts, she concluded.

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