Getting to Know Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, Shannon Valentine

Shannon Valentine was appointed secretary of transportation by Governor Ralph Northam in January 2018 and oversees Virginia’s $6 billion multimodal transportation system crossing seven agencies with more than 10,000 employees.

Secretary Valentine is a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Her legislative priorities focused on transportation, economic development, education and ethics. She was named Transportation Woman of the Year by WTS Central Virginia Chapter in both 2021 and 2017. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Virginia in economics. Additionally, she graduated from the Sorenson Institute at UVA and completed a four-year theology course through Sewanee University’s School of Theology.

Secretary Valentine recently agreed to answer some questions for Virginia Asphalt readers.

VAA→ Over the last four years, you have served as Virginia’s secretary of transportation and before that as a CTB member and member of the House of Delegates. With the different roles, how has your perspective on transportation changed?

Valentine→ Prior to entering public life, I spent many years working in Lynchburg’s inner city with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Lynchburg Housing Partnership, Lynchburg Neighborhood Development Foundation, Beacon of Hope and Lynchburg City School Foundation. While the work focused on education and housing, it was through these efforts that I learned the vital importance of transportation in people’s lives. And it was through this work that I was asked to run for a seat in the House of Delegates, leading to my service on the House Transportation Committee, the Commonwealth Transportation Board and now as secretary.

Looking back, there was a study that helped me see the integration of my life’s work. In 2015, Harvard Business Review released a study that found that the most significant factor for lifting a family out of poverty was transportation—above test scores of children, the percentage of two-parent households and crime in neighborhoods. My guiding principle has always been that reliable transportation has the power to drastically transform lives. It touches people each and every day and determines whether they have access to jobs, food, shelter, medicine and opportunity. What has changed for me is that my understanding of the foundational role of transportation in communities, across regions and throughout our Commonwealth has been strengthened—and made more vivid, more personal and more fundamental.

VAA→ With the new Federal Highway Transportation bill being developed, many environmentally focused or green initiatives are included. Fortunately, industry has been responsive to being better environmental stewards through innovative technologies. However, the pace of innovation has exceeded the pace of adoption by agencies. Do you envision more directives or legislation being passed in the future to speed up adoption?

Valentine→ Virginia’s Transportation Secretariat has made a real commitment to environmental sustainability. I am working to start up an Office of Transportation Sustainability, which will be charged with addressing the transportation needs of Virginians in an environmentally responsible manner. While the office will reside in VDOT at this time, it will coordinate with the entire Transportation Secretariat and focus on these key areas: investments, resiliency, decarbonization and stewardship.

We are fortunate in Virginia to have one of the most substantial asphalt pavement research programs in the country. Much of that program is devoted to advancing technologies that the Commonwealth and localities can safely adopt to be better environmental stewards without sacrificing performance and value. Core to that program is support for VDOT’s initiative on performance-based asphalt mix design (i.e., Balanced Mix Design [BMD]). High recycled content, better options for more locally available materials and expanded use of waste and marginal materials are all likely benefits of BMD that contribute to greener system management. Without actual in-service performance history or reliable methods to predict that performance, many opportunities are best explored through carefully monitored trials—something Virginia is very well equipped to support.

If the time comes when legislation is determined to be appropriate, such as targeting the resources necessary to manage pavement assets to service levels that minimize emissions while they are being used, it could be valuable.

VAA→ During your time as secretary, you have seen many challenges as well as new opportunities. While the challenges brought forth from COVID are hopefully once in a lifetime, Virginia’s transportation program moved forward. In terms of funding, money was identified for I-81 and other interstates, the Central Virginia Transportation Authority was established and dedicated funds in the general budget were allocated. Clearly, Virginia has a firmer funding foundation moving forward. What is the greatest challenge and opportunity for Virginia’s future program?

Valentine→ During my term, our team has made significant progress toward addressing the sustainability of transportation funding. The Governor’s Omnibus Transportation legislation, created from a yearlong Sustainability Study with a diverse group of stakeholders, built a bridge to the future of transportation funding. Researching the impact of fuel efficient and electric vehicles, which we all support, we found the Commonwealth was facing a funding gap in the gas tax revenue collections. With that information as our base, the Omnibus bill restructured revenue sources, indexed the gas tax to CPI, created the Highway Use Fee (HUF) and established the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, stabilizing funding across all modes.

During the pandemic, we worked with Governor Northam and the General Assembly to create and pass a budget amendment that provided flexibility to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) over the biennium budget that enabled the board to put every dollar to work. As a result, Virginia was able to avoid delaying projects, canceling contracts and laying off workers. Moving forward, transportation will be implementing the programs within the Omnibus, including funding for Special Structures for the first time in Virginia’s history, developing the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority and rolling out the Interstate Operations and Enhancement Program.

As we look ahead, we will continue improving and integrating our unparalleled transportation system that includes the third largest state-maintained highway system in the country, rail, transit, Metro, the Port of Virginia, VA Space, 1600 miles of trails and 66 airports—for the purpose of continuing to build a world-class transportation network—which is the platform for Virginia’s economy.

VAA→ Any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

Valentine→ When I was appointed to this position, I shared the principles with my team upon which I believed our secretariat would be measured. There were three:

Execution: Executing with excellence and integrity across all modes of transport is foundational to who we are and what we do;

Tying transportation decisions to economic development and opportunity for all people by supporting workforce, expanding commerce and prioritizing access and equity;

And finally, innovation: Not just in technology and applications, but in how we think, solve problems and, with limited resources, improve safety, promote sustainability and enhance the quality of all of our lives.

Over these past nearly four years, I have had the privilege and the pleasure of working with the best team in government. They embraced these principles and exceeded every expectation.

VAA→ What is one thing people who do not know you will find interesting?

Valentine→ I love to fly fish. I am not what anyone would consider “good” at it. As the 1924 writer and angler Zane Grey wrote, “If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.”

For me, there is something about putting on waders and standing in the middle of a beautiful mountain stream. The water, the practice, the solitude, the complete concentration allow me to set aside all of the worries of the world—and just be in the world.