GOP Lawmakers call for inquiry of HRBT Jam

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From the Virginia Pilot

Virginia GOP lawmakers call for inquiry of HRBT jam


Several Republican legislators are calling for an independent study of the July 2 flooding of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which crippled traffic throughout the region.

Del. Phillip Hamilton of Newport News said Tuesday that he isn’t confident an investigation by state transportation officials is enough to fully examine the incident.

So, along with fellow Newport News Republican Del. Glenn Oder, Hamilton is calling for an inquiry by a legislative panel that focuses on transportation issues.

“This is something that should be done,” said Hamilton, who has been a vocal critic of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

That request has the backing of several GOP legislators, including House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, and perhaps most importantly, Del. Joe May, a Northern Virginia Republican who chairs the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability.

May said he plans to ask Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer to appear before the commission at its Aug. 18 meeting.

“This is one of those topics that is of sufficient importance that it shouldn’t go unexamined,” May said, adding that he worries that “if we had a major hurricane, we could find people afloat.”

Depending on what legislators are told at that session, May said he might ask the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission staff to launch its own inquiry into conditions at the 52-year-old structure.

Homer declined to comment Tuesday.

Last week, state transportation officials said a water main break caused millions of gallons of water to leak underneath the tunnel roadway for several hours before it finally spilled onto the road and was detected.

During a public meeting Friday in Chesapeake, VDOT representatives said initial repairs had been made. They also pledged to finish a detailed public investigation in the coming weeks.

Despite that commitment, some legislators think HRBT is such a critical thoroughfare it needs outside inspection.

“Given the impact it had on the community, a second set of eyes looking at this is a good idea,” said state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. “Let’s go through the tunnel, figure out what’s wrong with it, figure out what it costs to repair it and then figure out how we’re going to do that.”

Homer has said that the problem is not a shortage of money for tunnel maintenance.

But any conversation about state transportation needs ultimately circles back to the inability of state lawmakers to agree on how to raise money to fix old roads, bridges and tunnels and build news ones. That impasse has festered in the General Assembly for much of this decade. It remains a sore subject between Democrats and Republicans.

“I’m not at all interested in placing blame. That’s not where my head is. My head is to do something to make it better,” said state Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk.

Miller, the Hampton Roads member of the transportation accountability panel, declined to take a position on whether another inquiry is warranted but warned against taking action that distracts VDOT from its core mission.