State lawmakers support Virginia Museum of Transportation’s bid to become state agency

State lawmakers support Virginia Museum of Transportation’s bid to become state agency
The Virginia Museum of Transportation, located in Roanoke, has been the Commonwealth’s Official Transportation Museum for over 60 years. However, it has been operating as a non-profit organization that receives no state funds. That could change soon, as both the State House and Senate subcommittees have unanimously approved bills to make the museum a state agency, similar to other state museums such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Museum showcases Virginia’s rich transportation history

The museum, which is housed in the nearly 106-year-old former N&W freight station in downtown Roanoke, has a collection of more than 2,500 artifacts that span all modes of transportation, from railroads and automobiles to aviation and maritime. The museum also features dedicated exhibits and partnerships that highlight the role of people of color and women in the transportation industry.

One of the museum’s most popular attractions is the N&W J Class 611, the Official Steam Engine of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The 611 is the most technologically advanced steam engine that was ever built, designed, and constructed in existence. It has been fully restored and operates on special occasions, drawing tens of thousands of rail fans each year.

State lawmakers support Virginia Museum of Transportation’s bid to become state agency

The museum’s annual budget is $1.3 million, and it had about 50,000 visitors per year before the pandemic, with about 40% of them coming from out of state. The museum officials hope to increase these numbers with support from the state, as well as to preserve and expand the museum’s collection and educational programs.

Bills aim to make museum a state entity eligible for state funds

The bills to make the museum a state agency are sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, and Sen. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, who represent the region where the museum is located. The bills are identical and would create a board of 15 citizen members, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the General Assembly, to oversee the museum’s operations. One of the board members would be a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Rasoul and Head have argued that the museum deserves state recognition and funding, as it creates a positive multi-million dollar impact to the region and supports a variety of businesses. They also said that the museum tells the story of Virginia’s transportation history and culture, which is essential for the current and future generations.

The bills have passed their respective Higher Education Subcommittees after being referred from Transportation. Similar bills have moved forward in previous sessions, but have failed to pass the full legislature. In 2023, the Senate passed a bill by then-Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, to have the state take over the museum, but that measure was killed in a House committee.

Other rural issues also considered by lawmakers

The museum’s quest to become a state agency is not the only rural issue that has been discussed by the lawmakers this session. A bipartisan effort to establish a new Secretariat of Rural Affairs position was pushed back to the 2025 General Assembly by the House Rules Studies Subcommittee on Monday.

The position, which would be responsible for coordinating and promoting the economic development and quality of life in rural areas, was proposed by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, R-Washington County, and Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County. They said that rural Virginia faces many challenges, such as lack of broadband access, health care, education, and workforce development, and needs a dedicated advocate in the executive branch.

However, the subcommittee decided to delay the bill for further study, citing the need to evaluate the fiscal impact and the existing efforts by other state agencies and commissions. A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, was advanced by the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee on Monday, and calls for a study to be conducted by JLARC.

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