What if we had an extra 100 million bucks to spend on transportation projects every year?

Aaron Williams, one my favorite local thinkers (well, local-no-longer as he just took a job with the Urban Institute in D.C.), says goodbye to town with this list of seven policy thoughts for the next mayor. Two have me like ?:

Every City Council meeting should have a paper asking for state policy changes instead of a once-a-year wishlist. More mayoral speeches should put Richmond’s problems in the context of state inaction. And every discussion of finances should mention the state’s declining role in important services like education.


BRT and Jarrett Walker’s work on the frequency-coverage trade-off mean GRTC is headed in the right direction, but the system needs dedicated funding if it is going to be an integral part of the future, much less a reliable system for getting those who can’t afford cars from point A to point B today.

Turns out these two thing are super related. Listen as I tell you a tale…

Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads both have a regional sales tax that they dedicate exclusively towards regional transportation projects. It was all set forth in the Big Transportation Bill of 2013, aka HB 2313. Take a look:

In addition to the sales tax imposed pursuant to § 58.1–603, there is hereby levied and imposed in each county and city located in a Planning District established pursuant to Chapter 42 (§ 15.2–4200 et seq.) of Title 15.2 that (i) as of January 1, 2013, has a population of 1.5 million or more as shown by the most recent United States Census, has not less than 1.2 million motor vehicles registered therein, and has a total transit ridership of not less than 15 million riders per year across all transit systems within the Planning District or (ii) as shown by the most recent United States Census meets the population criteria set forth in clause (i) and also meets the vehicle registration and ridership criteria set forth in clause (i), a retail sales tax at the rate of 0.70 percent.

The two big requirements that your locality must meet to levy this tax are that your locality (city or county) must exist within a planning district that has a population greater than 1.5 million and has 1.2 million registered motor vehicles. Guess which two planning districts meet those requirements? Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads!

Unfortunately, the planning district in which we live, the Richmond Regional Planning District, has a population of 1,002,696, so we’re unable to take advantage of this legislation…at the moment.

But! What if we had some loud, proactive lobbying at the state level by Richmond politicians? What if at every single City Council meeting there was a paper introduced and a public comment had about how the Commonwealth could better support Richmond? Perhaps we could convince the folks working across the street in the General Assembly building to lower some of those numbers—numbers that are chosen to specifically limit access to this tax to NOVA and the 757—and allow the Richmond region to participate?

What we’re missing out on

Let’s assume that we can somehow convince the Big Bad General Assembly to take pity on Little Ol’ Richmond. How much money could a 0.7% sales tax possibly generate?

Well, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service (PDF), our planning district (Ashland, Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Powhatan, and Richmond) generated $3,591,684,680 of taxable sales in the first quarter of 2016. If we take 0.7% of that, we end up with $25,141,792.79, or around $100 million of new money to use on regional transportation projects every single year.

That’s two new BRTs every year, y’all.