- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday said the state should not be promising residents roads it never will build, and he announced changes to prevent projects from languishing on the road-building master list.
The changes to the Department of Transportation's planning process won't, in most cases, get roads built any faster, administration officials said. But scrapping the six-year plan saves the governor and the embattled VDOT the embarrassment of having the public expect a road and then never having it built.
Years ago, the governor said, when a project got on the six-year plan it meant the road was in the works. But federal and state building and environmental regulations now routinely delay or kill projects and residents, who thought they were getting a road, get nothing.
"The perception has always been that if a project is in the six-year plan, it is as good as built within six years, but this often has not been the case," the Republican governor said. "This change will restore the people's confidence that when their government says a road will be built, it will be built."
Under the new two-phase process, roads and railways will graduate from the planning list of projects only under consideration to the construction list of projects that have survived regulatory scrutiny and public comment, have funding and actually are under construction.
Democrats said the changes are little more than window dressing. The new process, they say, won't stop problems such as ballooning costs for fixing the interchange among Interstates 95, 395 and 495 the Mixing Bowl.
"We don't think what he's talking about here today is going to solve systemic problems like that," said Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the state Democratic Party, who heard the governor's news conference.
Democrats also charge that when Mr. Gilmore's predecessor, Republican Gov. George F. Allen, cut jobs at VDOT, the best minds left the agency.
Mr. Gilmore wouldn't respond to that criticism, but his announcement is a public acknowledgment of VDOT's recent problems.
During this year's legislative session, lawmakers completely disregarded the six-year plan by writing projects they wanted into the actual bill that provided $3 billion over six years for the governor's transportation plan.
Then this summer Republican lawmakers sided with Democrats in calling for an investigation after the cost of the Mixing Bowl project, originally estimated to be $350 million, suddenly was announced at more than $500 million. The governor has blamed the overruns on localities and lawmakers demanding new whistles and bells and on inflation, which wasn't calculated into the original figures.
But he declared yesterday that VDOT now would take inflation into account when figuring costs.
Mr. Bieber and Democratic state party Chairman Kenneth R. Plum laughed out loud at that, saying it's about time VDOT accounted for inflation, but arguing that alone doesn't account for the Mixing Bowl problems.

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