- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is embracing an issue that promises to be political kryptonite; namely, the vexing transportation woes of Northern Virginia that show no indications of abating.

Developers have fought the green-space activists in Northern Virginia the past four decades, and the developers have won. Northern Virginia has come to be a vast expanse of tract housing and strip malls extending to the exurbs beyond Fairfax County.

Loudoun County’s green-space advocates used to rally around a simple bumper-sticker slogan: “Don’t Fairfax Loudoun.” Yet Fairfax has come to eastern Loudoun County, and now the fight is to preserve the villages and open space beyond Leesburg.

The fight, alas, appears not winnable in the end, if only because people go to where the jobs are, and the jobs are in this region, beckoning those people to put down roots in affordable communities with good schools and low taxes.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, is looking to push through a sizable tax increase in order to improve the state’s transportation system, starting with Northern Virginia’s antiquated thoroughfares ill-equipped to handle the population crush of the last two decades.

The logjam that is Interstate 66 at all hours of the day is an apt symbol of Northern Virginia’s vehicular madness. Adding a lane or two would be a small measure that would provide only momentary relief.

A rail line to Washington Dulles International Airport has been bandied about seemingly forever, its completion in the faraway future and no immediate hope to those spending ever more time on the highways commuting to and from work.

However the transportation fix goes down, the fix is likely to have the restorative power of a Band-Aid. If the interminable project known as the Mixing Bowl in Springfield is any indication, the correction merely leads to a confusing number of signs, turnoffs and quadruple lane changes, none of which improves the safety of the roadways.

Virginia’s lawmakers are up against the unrelenting migratory habits of the masses, and no amount of urban planning can resolve that which has been eroding Northern Virginia’s quality of life the past two decades.

People have to live somewhere, as is said, and more and more people are chasing the American dream in places previously regarded as outposts, such as West Virginia’s Panhandle region.

The housing crunch has an upside, as homeowners basking in unthinkable appreciation rates the past few years could attest.

The dearth of new housing in the close-in suburbs, along with historically low interest rates, has contributed to the skyrocketing costs of homes. The result is an environmentalist’s nightmare — sprawl that is threatening to pave over the last of the open spaces between Richmond and Baltimore, with one bedroom community indistinguishable from the next.

No newly formed transportation system is about to tame the housing dynamic, because no one can say with certainty how the latter will play out in the years ahead, no more than anyone could have predicted the 125 percent increases and the like in home values the past six years.

Northern Virginia has undergone dramatic change the past two decades, as the miniskyline of Tysons Corner has come to be the unofficial downtown of the region. As recently as the 1960s, Tysons Corner was nothing more than a rural intersection that was sustained by the farms around it. Now it is both the economic jewel and transportation bane of Northern Virginia, both formidable and lamentable.

The roadways around it serve as so many convoluted mazes, as employees and shoppers converge on it each day. Mr. Kaine and his transportation planners can fix that? Give Mr. Kaine this. He at least is attempting to address an issue that long ago prompted other lawmakers to throw up their hands in resignation.

Yet his remains a mostly thankless assignment, given the ever-gathering strength of the transportation beast in Northern Virginia.

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