Hang up and drive

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Legislation providing for a massive infusion of new money for the commonwealth’s long-neglected, crumbling roads finally took effect July 1, essentially overhauling the way Virginia’s transportation system is funded.
The clearest signal that the law took effect, however, wasn’t visible along any road; it was at the cash register, where consumers began shelling out a little more money.
Gone is the state’s fixed, 17.5 cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline, which had lost more than half its value since being enacted in 1987.
In its place is an array of new fees and higher or modified taxes, including a wholesale tax levied on gasoline that the American Automobile Association has predicted should eventually lead to average, statewide gas prices dropping by about six cents per gallon.
It’s hard to tell how much of that decline will materialize in Hampton Roads and in Northern Virginia, where motorists will pay a 5.6 percent wholesale gas tax, compared to 3.5 percent elsewhere in the state.
And most of the state now pays a 5.3 percent retail sales tax, up from 5 percent.
Legislation also raised the titling tax on new cars — to 4.3 percent, from 3 percent — and imposed a $64 annual registration fee on hybrid vehicles.
If all those numbers make your head hurt, there’s good reason: The funding overhaul was the product of political negotiations involving Democrats and Republicans, urban lawmakers and rural ones, delegates facing re-election and a governor harboring national ambitions. Its approval was a remarkable feat.
No real effect is expected at gas pumps immediately. But over the next few years, as millions of Virginians — and tourists — provide billions more dollars, Virginia will finally be able to repair and expand its transportation network into one befitting a state widely regarded as among the best to live and work and play.
And, because of another change that took effect July 1, more motorists will likely witness that progress.
Lawmakers finally approved a meaningful ban on texting while driving, an overdue measure imposing hefty fines — $125 for the first offense, $250 for subsequent offenses — to deter this deadly diversion.
Virginians and visitors alike are paying for better roads across the commonwealth. Put down the phone and enjoy them.

This Landmark News Service editorial first appeared in the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk. It is adapted for local readers.