A promising announcement

Published 12:43 pm Saturday, November 30, 2013

With the Norfolk International Terminals as a backdrop, Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe announced last Friday that he would appoint Aubrey Layne of Virginia Beach as the Secretary of Transportation for his new administration, which takes office in January.

The appointment is significant for several reasons, and the location chosen for it is important for the message it sends about the new administration’s apparent understanding of the economic importance of Hampton Roads to the commonwealth of Virginia.

“Aubrey’s own experience as a longtime Hampton Roads resident means that he understands how damaging overcrowded and outdated roads, tunnels and bridges are not only to our economy, but to our quality of life,” McAuliffe said, according to a report by The Virginian-Pilot. “We cannot encourage businesses to locate here if they are unable to move their products and their people freely about the commonwealth.”

Elevating a Tidewater resident to this important position should help ensure the area’s transportation problems receive due consideration at the state level. Layne indicated his desire to make lawmakers, voters and business leaders around the state understand the significance of Tidewater gridlock when, according to the same report, he said he is “very keen to bring to the state Capitol a deeper understanding of the challenges we face every day in crossing rivers and bays and connecting citizens to their jobs, shopping and entertainment.”

The fact that Layne is a Republican also has been touted as proof that Democrat McAuliffe is eager to reach across partisan divides to find solutions to the problems that beset the commonwealth.

And the location of Friday’s announcement — outside the operations center at Norfolk International Terminals, with the big blue cranes that load and unload cargo standing in the background — could hardly be more evocative of what’s at stake. Just about the only way the governor-elect could have made a stronger statement about the negative economic impact of failed transportation policy to Hampton Roads would have been to hold his press conference at the entrance to the Downtown Tunnel at 5 p.m. on Friday, with trucks and cars backed up for miles in the background.

The next four years of actions (or lack of them) by the administration will say far more about this new governor’s commitment to solving Hampton Roads’ longstanding transportation problems than any speeches he gives between now and January. But Tidewater residents can at least take away a measure of hope from this speech and from the appointment to this cabinet-level post of a man who has truly shared their pain for many years.