- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

RICHMOND Northern Virginia drivers trapped in the nation's second-worst daily traffic jam will get some relief under an ambitious new $10 billion, six-year transportation plan outlined by state officials yesterday.

Under the plan, about a third of the $10 billion would go to fund long-stalled or delayed Northern Virginia road projects and rail improvements, including:

n A new $100 million aerial ramp that is expected to relieve congestion at the interchange between the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66.

n The controversial widening of Interstate 66 inside the Beltway.

n A new interchange between the Fairfax County Parkway and Fair Lakes Boulevard.

n The new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, although the plan holds the line at $200 million for the state's share, a figure that some congressional representatives and federal officials say is too low.

n The widening of Route 1 in Fairfax County.

The plan also earmarks $242.6 million in state funds for priority rail and public-transportation projects.

Secretary of Transportation Shirley J. Ybarra said the six-year Virginia Transportation Development Plan will also, for the first time, factor for inflation in cost estimates and differentiate between projects that are still under study and those on which construction work can actually begin.

Those changes, she said, will hopefully restore confidence in Virginia's Department of Transportation, which has been criticized lately as inefficient and mismanaged.

"In the plan, we are changing the way we do business," Miss Ybarra said.

Dan Shoemaker, assistant secretary of transportation, said after the news conference that the increases for Northern Virginia were meant to offset inequities of past funding plans.

"It's easy to say that Northern Virginia was a big winner here," Mr. Shoemaker said. "We are now going to be building infrastructure that should have been built years ago, if not decades ago."

The plan is a draft and still needs to go through public reviews and be approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The board, which is made up mostly of Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III's appointees, is expected to sign off on the plan Oct. 18.

Deputy Secretary of Transportation Arthur N. Bowen III said the state will issue $375 million in bonds to pay for projects this year.

VDOT Commissioner Charles Nottingham said the plan also reflects the agency's willingness to come to terms with past mistakes and be more accountable to taxpayers and the General Assembly.

"We hope to move on to a bright future of planning with solid numbers," Mr. Nottingham said, noting that in previous plans, budgets for projects such as the Springfield Interchange were often based on incomplete estimates.

Just this week, VDOT said the cost of rebuilding the Springfield Interchange known as the Mixing Bowl is now estimated at $540 million, but could go up again.

Two area state senators said counting on future revenue is risky.

"It's not a good practice to borrow against money that may not come," said state Sen. Leslie Byrne, Falls Church Democrat. "It's like going to a pawnbroker."

State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, said the state does have a valid interest in wanting to speed these projects up, especially in Northern Virginia, but warned that borrowing money could hamstring future administrations.

"It's really a way of jump-starting some projects," Mrs. Whipple said. "The needs are so urgent that the funds will help us get started. But on the other hand … it will leave the future administration short of money."

House Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell of Roanoke County said he was unimpressed by the transportation plan.

"I have very little trust in this group now," Mr. Cranwell said.

He said transportation officials misled legislators during the last General Assembly session about the cost of rebuilding the Springfield Interchange.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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