Chamber signs on to VA Chamber’s health care for small business support letter

The Roanoke Regional Chamber has signed on to a Virginia Chamber of Commerce letter in support of SB 1689 (Dunnavant), SB 1351 and SB 1353 (Wagner), and SB 1712 (Vogel). These bills will help increase access to affordable health care coverage for small employers in Virginia.

Click here to view the letter.

Chamber signs on to VA Chamber’s legal reform letter

The Roanoke Regional Chamber has signed on to the VA Chamber’s legal reform letter in support of SB 1457 (Vogel) and SB 1486 (Obenshain). SB 1457 will provide a process when a corporate executive is sought to be deposed in litigation. SB 1486 will allow for limited use of depositions to support a motion for summary judgment in cases between businesses.

Click here to view the legal reform letter.

Legislation to fund I-81 Improvements

Improving I-81 is a priority for the business community. As expressed in the Chamber’s recent op-ed on I-81, the ability to move goods and services is foundational to a strong business climate. Current conditions on I-81 are unsafe, unreliable, and impede commerce.

We are monitoring the following legislative proposals to fund improvements to I-81.

SB 1716 (Obenshain) / HB2718 (Landes):
Interstate 81; tolling; Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund. Authorizes the Commonwealth Transportation Board (the Board) to impose tolls on Interstate 81, subject to conditions and limitations set forth in the bill. If the Board implements the tolls, it would also be required to offer annual toll passes for passenger vehicles. Revenues from such tolls would be deposited in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund, established by the bill, and be used for capital, operating, and improvement costs along the Interstate 81 corridor. In allocating such revenues, the Board would develop and update, in consultation with an Interstate 81 Committee established by the bill, an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program.

SB1322 (Hanger): Tax on motor fuels. Imposes an additional 2.1 percent tax on motor fuels sold at wholesale to a retail dealer for sale in a locality along the Interstate 81 Corridor. The revenues from the tax would be deposited into an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund, to be used by the Commonwealth Transportation Board to fund improvements along the corridor or to support debt to fund such improvements.

SB1470 (Edwards): Additional motor fuels tax. Imposes an additional motor fuels tax equal to five percent of the average wholesale price of gasoline on the sale of gasoline, gasohol, diesel, and alternative fuels. $300 million of the new revenues would be reserved for improvements to Interstate 81, and the remainder would be distributed pursuant to existing allocation formulas for statewide transportation needs.

Op-Ed: Virginia Deserves a Better I-81

An op-ed by Joyce Waugh, President & CEO of the Roanoke Regional Chamber, was published in the Roanoke Times this week. The article outlined the significance of quality infrastructure, the current safety and reliability challenges on I-81, and proposals to fund improvements.

The text of the op-ed is below.

The Roanoke Regional Chamber’s roots in advocacy – specifically, transportation advocacy – date back to our founding in 1890, when a group of merchants banded together to improve roadways to City Market.

Then called the Merchant’s Association, this group recognized that shared challenges with road conditions were impeding everyone’s ability to sell goods. Through a collective voice, the Merchant’s Association was able to advocate for road improvements, thereby strengthening the overall business climate.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Roanoke Regional Chamber continues to advocate for road improvements, because transportation infrastructure and the ability to move goods and services is foundational to a strong business climate.

Interstate 81 is outdated, exceeding the capacity it was built for by 50 percent. The corridor carries $312 billion in goods annually, connects 30 colleges and universities, and winds through 21 cities and 13 counties. It is the artery of western Virginia.

Investment in our transportation infrastructure is investment in economic opportunity. 

Regular users of the corridor understand all-too-well the safety, reliability and congestion challenges we experience with I-81. Each year, there are more than 45 crashes that take longer than four hours to clear.

Data from the Virginia Department of Transportation show that I-81 has the highest proportion of incident related delay, compared to all other Virginia interstates. This means that dangerous accidents, not regular rush hour traffic, cause the majority of the backups on I-81.

These unique conditions are not conducive to economic growth and impede commerce

We are in the midst of an important opportunity to improve I-81. Governor Northam recently announced a proposal to fund improvements on I-81, a push that comes after a year-long study of the corridor’s most immediate needs.

As directed by the General Assembly, the Commonwealth Transportation Board adopted an I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan in December, 2018. This study identified the worst crash hotspots along I-81 and targeted solutions make to the corridor safer and more reliable.

For the Roanoke region, which has the highest crash density along I-81, transportation leaders recommend adding a third lane northbound between Christiansburg and Troutville and southbound between Troutville and Fort Lewis.

In addition to road projects, the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan also includes incident management strategies, such as message signs and expanded safety patrols, in order to respond more efficiently when accidents occur.

Overall, the Plan identifies $2 billion worth of immediately necessary upgrades between Bristol and Winchester.  As part of the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan, the Virginia Department of Transportation evaluated ways to pay for the recommended improvements.

Senators Mark Obenshain and Bill Carrico and Delegates Steve Landes and Terry Austin will sponsor a plan financed by tolls, with the option for an annual auto pass allowing unlimited use of the corridor. Revenues collected would only be used for improvements identified in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan.

Other funding options for consideration are increases in regional sales and gas taxes in planning districts along I-81. At this early stage in the legislative process, all options are on the table.

For an interstate that costs approximately $10 million per mile in each direction to widen, the reality is that existing transportation revenue is not sufficient to meet current needs along I-81.

Other Virginia interstates, including I-64, I-66, and I-95, rely primarily on revenue collected locally for major projects. Regional funding dedicated to the I-81 corridor is necessary to implement meaningful upgrades to our transportation infrastructure.

Recent polling by Public Opinion Strategies demonstrates the broad public support for improving I-81. The analysis revealed that 88 percent of respondents support a $2 billion investment to improve I-81. Sixty-nine percent of voters agree that solutions should be approved in 2019.

Safety concerns on I-81 have been mounting for several years, and they will only continue to worsen if this issue is neglected any longer.

It is past time to address the severe challenges that I-81 presents so that businesses, commuters, students, visitors and residents can travel safely throughout Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

The Roanoke Regional Chamber is proud to serve as the voice of the business community and stand up for policies that will strengthen our broader business climate.

This General Assembly session, we are reminded of our 129 year history in transportation advocacy. Join us in support of this important issue by contacting your legislators today.

Action Alert: Minimum Wage Increase

On Monday, the Virginia Senate will consider proposals to increase the minimum wage. The Roanoke Regional Chamber joined several business organizations in strong opposition to these measures.

Data shows that an increased minimum wage would disproportionately impact small businesses, which are least able to absorb dramatic increases in their labor costs. A 2014 study from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that if the minimum wage were increased to even $10.10 per hour, up to 500,000 jobs nationally could be lost.

The Chamber supports opportunities to invest in job training, education, and in-demand skills as means to higher earning potential.

Contact your legislator today on this important issue.

The following Virginia delegates and senators represent the broader Roanoke region:

Senator John Edwards: District21@senate.virginia.gov
Senator David Suetterlein: District19@senate.virginia.gov
Senator Stephen Newman: District23@senate.virginia.gov