Roanoke-built, steam-powered locomotives sit silently in the museum's railyard. Photo by Ralph Berrier Jr.

RICHMOND – Roanoke’s 59-year old Virginia Transportation Museum will have to continue operating as a non-profit organization on its own at least for another year after legislation that would have designated the museum a full-fledged state agency failed in a Senate money committee on Tuesday. 

The Democratic-led Senate Finance and Appropriations K-12 Subcommittee unanimously voted to carry over the measure, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, to next year, allowing for either the Virginia Department of Transportation or the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission more time to study its fiscal impact that is estimated to be between $1 million and $3.5 million annually, based on the size and scope of the museum. (See our backgrounder on why the museum wants state agency status.)

Edwards had told members of the Senate Education and Health Higher Education subcommittee two weeks ago that additional funding would increase tourism for the Roanoke Valley from $14 million to $21 million in net additional income. The committee at the time approved his measure, referring it to the finance committee. 

The state agency designation would have meant that the currently privately owned museum, which is housed in the nearly 104-year-old, brick-walled former N&W freight station in downtown Roanoke, would have become a state entity similar to other state museums, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Natural History, making it eligible to receive state funds. Edwards had pushed for $2 million in a separate budget amendment — significantly less than what the aforementioned museums receive annually. 

In pre-pandemic times, the museum had about 50,000 visitors per year, with about 40% of those visiting from out of state. It is currently operating under an annual budget of $1.3 million. Museum officials had hoped to exceed these numbers with support from the state.

Edwards told the committee Tuesday that as early as 1993, then-state Sen. Hunter Andrews, D-Hampton, had recommended for the museum to become a state agency. “It is the official Museum for Transportation for Virginia,” Edwards said.

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Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.