- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday presented an overhaul for the state's transportation department that he said would save $147 million per year and speed up road construction without increasing taxes.

"This, when implemented, will be a groundbreaking legacy," Mr. Gilmore said during a news conference at the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Smart Traffic Center in Arlington. "This is major reform."

Northern Virginia lawmakers and business leaders applauded Mr. Gilmore's proposals, which will be carried out over the next few months. But some said his initiatives will not move the area any closer to solving its traffic woes.

As first reported in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Times, Mr. Gilmore also announced measures yesterday to streamline Virginia's transportation department.

VDOT now will use a scoring system to prioritize road projects, allow some localities to take over road maintenance and include additional maintenance costs in its six-year, $20 billion funding plan.

The savings Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, expects account for about 5 percent of the total six-year plan.

"Time is money," Mr. Gilmore said, adding that the longer it takes to build a road, the more it costs.

Mr. Gilmore also is directing consultants to follow the same bidding process construction companies use when competing for contracts.

VDOT had been awarding contracts to firms with the best qualifications, not necessarily to those with the lowest bids, costing taxpayers more than necessary.

Mr. Gilmore will submit his proposals in bills to the General Assembly and take administrative action to implement them. He said his plan should cut nine to 12 months off construction projects and save money.

"It stretches our money," he said, adding that savings will "be reinvested back into building roads."

Most of Mr. Gilmore's plan stems from the recommendations of his blue-ribbon transportation commission, which voted on its final report Monday.

His plan includes:

n Hiring a deputy highway commissioner to oversee road projects.

n Setting up a program that would require a team of VDOT workers to follow a construction project from beginning to end.

n Penalizing contractors who violate contracts.

n Increasing penalties, which have not gone up since 1957, for illegal overweight trucks.

Noticeably absent in Mr. Gilmore's announcement was a suggestion by some Northern Virginia business leaders and legislators that the region be given the power to tax itself for road construction.

"I promised to advance our transportation network into the new century without raising taxes," Mr. Gilmore said, adding that his commission never recommended any type of tax increase.

Commission Chairman J. Kenneth Klinge said he was pleased with the governor's proposal, adding that it is the first of many steps toward solving transportation problems.

State Delegate Richard H. Black, Sterling Republican, said the savings in Mr. Gilmore's plan may help.

"It's going to pay for part of it. I'm not sure if it's going to get us there," Mr. Black said, adding that he favors using the state's general fund to pay for transportation projects.

The region's long-term needs are still not being met though by this plan, said Delegate Robert D. Hull, Falls Church Democrat.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to realize that if we don't have the money we'll have to figure out where it comes from," Mr. Hull said. "All the bills are going to come due."

Because a large portion of the state's increased revenue has come from Northern Virginia, Mr. Hull said, more money for transportation should be pumped into the region.

Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William County Republican, will present a bill this legislative session that would raise the state sales tax in Northern Virginia from 4.5 percent to 5 percent with food an exception. It would raise about $110 million per year for transportation projects.

Another Republican, Delegate Jeannemarie A. Devolites of Fairfax County, said she supported a similar measure last year and would do so again as long as it would not affect other parts of the state.

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