- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner yesterday said the state is still years away from relieving congested roads around the Capital Beltway because the funds are just not there.
"We need to look hard at the rail option [and] we need to look at some form of an HOV option," he said during the "Ask the Governor" program on WTOP radio 1500 AM, but added that Virginia doesn't have funding for either of these alternatives now.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is considering several alternatives to help alleviate traffic congestion in the area including widening lanes and adding more rail lines for Virginia Railway Express, the commuter railroad serving Northern Virginia.
Earlier this month, however, VDOT announced that it is cutting its budget dramatically over the next six years. As a result, 179 proposed projects across the state were put in limbo, including new lanes along the Interstate 66 corridor and the busy Route 29 interchange.
Despite the cuts, VDOT is considering several alternatives to help alleviate the congestion in the area, as part of a multiyear study to figure out transportation alternatives. The study was commissioned before the budget shortfall.
Neither of the proposals, however, would begin construction for quite some time because of the budget constraints.
"We're a long way off before any final determination is made," said Mr. Warner, a Democrat.
The governor said he has not made a decision one way or the other as to which option is best, adding that they all need to be considered, despite the heated feelings on all sides. Some residents favor a railway extension while others support more lanes on the interstate, either for general use or HOV purposes.
Despite the lengthy timetable, Mr. Warner said, the alternatives need to be ironed out now, so homeowners likely affected by any projects would have time to relocate. For example, widening the Beltway from its current eight lanes to a proposed 12 would potentially eliminate 300 homes in Springfield.
"The sooner we can remove the cloud, the better," he said.
Mr. Warner has yet to meet with Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening or D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, both Democrats, about the transportation crisis something he promised to do within his first 100 days in office. He said whatever Virginia decides to do needs to be coordinated with its Northern neighbors, since it wouldn't do Virginia drivers any good if they face bottlenecks getting to work once they cross the Maryland or D.C. lines.
VDOT is sponsoring three public hearings in the region to get public input on the proposals, including one last night in Springfield. The other two are tonight at the Westpark Hotel in Tysons Corner and tomorrow night Fairview Marriott in Falls Church. Opponents are expected to voice concerns that any project would promote sprawl or hurt the environment.
Mr. Warner said opponents would have ample opportunity to protest the plans, even though they are being held in private hotels, not public facilities.
Mr. Warner took advantage of the hourlong talk show to promote the Northern Virginia transportation referendum, scheduled for November, in which residents will have the opportunity to vote on increasing the sales tax by one-half cent to fund other transportation needs.
"This is a chance for Northern Virginia to raise funds and keep the funds here and build a multimodal system, giving them a viable option" to relieve congestion, he said.
Mr. Warner campaigned heavily on the issue during last year's gubernatorial race and made it a top priority during his inaugural legislative session.
Under the proposed referendum, nearly 60 percent of the funds raised would go toward rail, bus and additional HOV lanes. Opponents feel Northern Virginia already pays more than its fair share in taxes and Richmond lawmakers should not be ducking their responsibility for allocating funds.

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