Transportation Is Key State Issue; Several U.Va. Experts Can Weigh In

At his annual transportation conference Dec. 5, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell discussed the bipartisan progress being made in addressing Virginia's transportation challenges. He also announced that he would propose a significant transportation funding package in the upcoming General Assembly session that will eliminate the need to transfer road construction funds to maintenance by 2019, and put at least $500 million a year in new transportation funding into roads, bridges, transit and passenger rail.

“We cannot continue kicking the can down the road,” said McDonnell, who will roll out his formal policy proposal in the weeks ahead.

Several University of Virginia professors can comment on transportation policy or research they’re conducting in the field.


• Gary Koenig
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering

Better Batteries for Transportation: As fuel prices rise, cheaper (and cleaner) forms of energy become more attractive and important to consumers, and fully electric cars may be the wave of the future.

But greater integration of battery-powered or battery-assisted vehicles will require new types of batteries with higher energy densities, lower weight, better safety, high reliability and lower cost (currently, hybrid vehicle batteries typically cost in the range of a few thousand dollars).

Koenig is researching how to make better, cheaper and lighter batteries for the transportation sector. The goal is to lower the cost and weight of rechargeable batteries, increase the length of time they can hold a charge under heavy use, increase their life span, and shorten the time it takes to recharge a battery. Koenig said an ideal would be to someday have batteries that could re-charge as quickly as it currently takes to refill a vehicle with liquid fuel.

• Brian Smith
Director, U.Va.’s Smart Travel Lab and professor and chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Faculty Web page:

Smarter Cars and Roads: Cars are getting smarter – with GPS for navigation, video cameras for backing up, emergency alert systems for accidents or breakdowns, and onboard computers for monitoring mechanical conditions. And highways are getting smarter too – with better monitoring of traffic flows and quicker alerts when traffic backs up. But roads, and cars could still get increasingly safer and greener and more efficient.

Smith, director of the University of Virginia’s Smart Travel Lab, is working with federal and state transportation departments to make cars and roads smarter by embedding them in a communication network that focuses on greater mobility and traffic flow.



• Mildred Robinson
Professor of Law
Faculty Web page:

Of the state’s gas tax – fixed at 17.5 cents per gallon since 1986, when gas cost 93 cents a gallon, according to a Dec. 11 Washington Post editorial – Robinson says: “Virginia’s comparatively low gasoline tax is deceptive and misleading. This is so because voters lack insight into the real costs of maintaining – let alone improving – Virginia’s transportation system. There now exists a gap between spending on transportation and transportation-related taxes. In short, transportation spending significantly outpaces transportation income. General state revenues – including revenues from sales and income taxes – help close the gap. So although increased gasoline taxes would have a regressive effect, two things seem obvious: First, increasing the gas tax would more closely and realistically align revenues with expenses; and second, freeing up general revenues presently used for transportation could well redirect those funds for other government programs, a potentially important point in considering the regressive effect of an increased gas tax.”

• Terance “Terry” J. Rephann
Regional economist, U.Va. Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service

New highways don’t guarantee growth and economic development, Rephann says. “New highways are often touted as economic development tools for rural and economically lagging regions. Despite their continued popularity among elected officials, the business community and the general public, evidence suggests that such investments are ineffective in promoting growth and economic development in such areas.”



Rebecca White
Director, U.Va. Parking & Transportation

Director of the University’s Department of Parking & Transportation since 2001, White is a U.Va. graduate who started with the department as a bus driver while a student. She is responsible for all permit, transit and facilities operations for the University and the Medical Center.

White has served on the International parking Institute's Board of Advisors and on the Board of Directors of the Parking Association of the Virginias for many years. She became a Certified Administrator of Public Parking in 1998 after completing a program through the International Parking Institute and U.Va.’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

White has given presentations on parking industry issues at regional and national annual conferences. She has provided consultation services to peer campus transportation operations and has published articles in national and regional publications.

• Jonathan Monceaux
Interim assistant director for transportation services, U.Va. Parking and Transportation

A graduate of Christopher Newport University, Monceaux is a transportation demand management professional who initiates, manages and promotes alternative transportation programs at the University to reduce single-occupancy vehicle use by University employees, students and visitors.

He has extensive experience with a variety of transportation-related software programs, chairs membership and recruitment for the Association for Commuter Transportation, Chesapeake Chapter, and he has received a “silver” Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award on behalf of P&T’s Transportation Demand Management program. He is a member of the U.Va Sustainability Outreach Committee, the business operations marketing team and the general safety and security committee.




• Ellen M. Bassett
Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning


Bassett’s work on transportation-related topics relate primarily to the way in which land use planning influences the design of urban areas, particularly whether land use supports the goal of creating built environments conducive to greater physical activity.

Bassett’s most recent transportation work revolves around the challenges homeless and transient populations present to state departments of transportation. In a recent survey of transportation departments in U.S. states and Canada implemented by Bassett and her colleague, Andree Tremoulet of Portland State University, 70 percent reported that they or others at their agency had encountered homeless encampments, and 40 percent agreed that their agency “considers homeless encampments in rest areas to be an operational challenge.”

Two publications of interest from this work are a case study of the successful relocation of a longstanding homeless encampment on a state rest area in Oregon and a guidebook for transportation officials regarding how to address the problem of homelessness on public right of way given environmental justice concerns and federal reporting requirements. The guidebook and the Baldock rest area relocation will be the topic of a U.S. Department of Transportation environmental justice webinar in February.

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