- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Sen. Charles S. Robb told a business group yesterday he will push his plan for a regional transportation authority for the Washington area as the centerpiece of his transportation agenda.

The plan, which the Democrat has floated in various forms for the last three years, calls for a regional authority within the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, in which local and state governments could debate and compromise on priorities.

Mr. Robb said his new version, which is pending in Congress, doesn't include taxing authority something Maryland and Virginia officials were loath to cede but that he wants the federal government to chip in about $200 million a year to the authority.

"I believe that an acknowledgment of the need to cooperate on a regional basis is crucial to solving the long-term challenges in the whole area," Mr. Robb said in a speech to the Central Fairfax (Va.) Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Robb is seeking re-election in November, and hopes to make better use of the transportation issue against his opponent, former Gov. George F. Allen, than state and local Democrats did last year. Then, they failed to parlay their attacks on Gov. James S. Gilmore III's transportation policy into legislative gains.

Mr. Robb stressed his record of bringing home money in the form of many small-ticket items, such as interchanges and bus-fleet replacement and some bigger items, including his support for the federal payment of $900 million for a Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement and $80 million for transit benefits for federal workers.

He also promised to work for federal incentives to telecommute, for more transit, for preserving open spaces and pushing the federal government to pay for the unfunded $600 million hole in the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement budget.

Still, Mr. Robb's platform didn't differ from many of the things Mr. Allen has supported, including having the federal government cover the current Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement cost gap, supporting telecommuting and helping build rail out to Washington Dulles International Airport.

John Mason, a Republican and mayor of Fairfax City, who has also been at the forefront of transportation debates, gave Mr. Robb credit for his accomplishments to date, but said both parties have worked well in Congress on the issue. He also said it's unlikely Mr. Robb can win the additional $200 million a year he promised for the authority.

James W. Dyke, who took the point on transportation issues when he was chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, said the real difference will be to see whose record of success registers more with voters.

Mr. Robb supported a regional authority several years ago, even when it was very unpopular, said Mr. Dyke, a Democrat who is considering a run for lieutenant governor in Virginia.

In response to yesterday's event, the Allen campaign sent out a press release calling Mr. Robb's speech "odd, rare and late."

The release had Lt. Gov. John H. Hager attacking Mr. Robb's transportation record.

"It was Governor Chuck Robb who downgraded transportation as a state priority. His ill-fated marriage of Virginia's Department of Transportation with the Department of Public Safety two agencies that couldn't have less in common resulted in serious neglect of both road building and prison construction," Mr. Hager said.

Mr. Hager also said Virginia's Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican, deserves the credit for securing a bigger share of federal transportation money, not Mr. Robb.

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