Hampton Roads Transportation Authority
Hampton Roads Transportation Authority (HRTA) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States that has the responsibility for funding several major traffic projects in the Hampton Roads area. As of March 2008, although its projects were considered to be needed, the agency's future was in some question while its controversial sources of funding were being reconsidered in light of a Virginia Supreme Court decision.
The Virginia General Assembly, as part of its 2007 session, approved House Bill 3202, which authorized the creation of the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority (HRTA). A component of the legislation requires at least 7 of the 12 governing bodies, which must include at least 51 percent of the population to pass a resolution not later than December 31, 2007 approving the powers granted to the Authority. The state legislation also established the following conditions for HRTA including:
- Grants the Authority the powers necessary to fulfill its purpose
- Sets the conditions necessary for the imposition and assessment of taxes and fees by the authority
- Identifies members
- Provides means for the Authority to impose, assess and collect taxes, fees and tolls
- Prioritize projects and funding to be undertaken by the Authority
- Enables localities to impose certain additional real estate taxes on commercial and industrial properties.
Local endorsement, representation
Although some of the localities did not vote to endorse the creation of the commission, the required minimums were approved, and the HRTA was formed in July 2007.
The HRTA area includes the entire territory encompassed by all 12 localities, regardless who and how the particular city or county voted, and each are represented on its governing board. It is noteworthy that Virginia has independent cities which are not politically within any county, but rather are considered essentially county-equivalent (technically a federal term) for this purpose. While cities are excluded from their surrounding county, towns remain a part of the county. Hence, Isle of Wight County includes the only two incorporated towns in the area, known as the Town of Smithfield and the Town of Windsor; the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisor's vote on formation and representative membership are the applicable ones for those town residents.
Cities and counties included
The following 9 cities and 3 counties constitute the 12 localities:
- City of Chesapeake
- City of Hampton
- City of Newport News
- City of Norfolk
- City of Poquoson
- City of Portsmouth
- City of Suffolk
- City of Virginia Beach
- City of Williamsburg
The enabling legislation as adopted in 2007 prioritizes the transportation projects that will be undertaken by the HRTA to include:
- First Phase Projects:
- Second Phase Projects:
In total, the regional fees anticipated to be applied would generate an additional $170 million per year towards critical regional transportation projects. Toll revenues would be additional funds available to the HRTA. Also, optional local taxes could generate additional revenue annually for local transportation projects.
As of February 6, 2008, the taxes scheduled to go into effect in the HRTA area on April 1, 2008  were:
- $10 automobile inspection fee
- 5 percent tax on automobile repairs
- Grantor's tax of 40 cents for every $100 of assessed value when selling a home
- Motor vehicle rental tax of 2 percent
- One-time vehicle registration fee of 1 percent
- Annual vehicle registration fee of $10
- 2 percent gas tax
Dissension, court rulings, and delays
During the 2008 session of the Virginia General Assembly, there were efforts sponsored by legislators from the area to include improvements to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, a major issue for localities on the Virginia Peninsula, many of whose residents have complained that the proposed projects shortchange their area. Also, Del. Tom Gear sponsored H.B. 829 to abolish the HRTA. None of those measures was passed, however.
While the Assembly was still in session, on February 29, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that portions of the 2007 transportation law were unconstitutional in response to a case filed by State Delegate Robert Marshall and seven other residents challenging the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). The court ruled that the General Assembly could not delegate its taxing powers to an unelected body. Since the HRTA is also not a directly elected body, the press reported that its funding sources as set forth at that time were also invalidated by the court ruling.
As of late March 2008, Hampton Roads area members of the General Assembly were communicating with local leaders on the Virginia Peninsula and in South Hampton Roads regarding developing solutions and requests for legislation for an upcoming special session of the state legislature planned to address the transportation funding crisis statewide, and also possibly address priorities and the additional funding needs of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
There seemed to be a consensus that
- some new funding dedicated to Hampton Roads projects was needed
- improvements to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, previously excluded, would need to be part of any package that would be acceptable to most or all communities in the HRTA district.
- Bill Tracking - 2007 session > Legislation
- Efforts fail to kill authority; taxes coming - dailypress.com
- http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?081+sum+HB829 Retrieved 2008-03-13.
- Marshall v. Northern Virginia Transportation Authority http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1071959.pdf Retrieved 2006-03-06.
- Larry O'Dell, "Supreme Court ruling voids Hampton Roads Transportation Authority", Associated Press, http://www.dailypress.com/dp-gasupremecourt0229,0,6977613.story Retrieved 2008-03-13.