- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Campaigns for and against Northern Virginia's tax referendum kicked into high gear yesterday, with supporters calling it the only solution to the region's transportation problems and opponents contending it would benefit developers.
Approval of the Nov. 5 ballot question would raise the region's sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent. Money from the tax would be earmarked for transit and highway projects, as well as mass transit.
The tax is estimated to generate more than $5 billion over 20 years.
"This finally links transportation and growth planning together by having the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority make those decisions," Gov. Mark R. Warner said.
The Democratic governor and two Republicans U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner presented their case for the tax increase to Washington Gas employees.
A short while before that, a coalition of environmental and slow-growth advocates joined forces to voice opposition. The alliance includes the Sierra Club, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
The governor said the tax increase is the only way to adequately fund transportation projects in the region. He said there are no additional federal or state transportation dollars available for the projects if the measure fails.
"Believing that there's going to be a big pot of money to solve these problems is like believing in the tooth fairy," he said.
Gov. Warner pointed out that more than 40 percent of the new money would be used for public transit, three times more than had been done before.
Two-hundred-and-fifty-million dollars are earmarked for Metro improvements, such as new train cars and buses. It also includes $350 million to expand transit along the Dulles corridor.
The plan also recommends using the money to develop new transit along Routes 1 and 7 and the Columbia Pike.
But Stewart Schwartz, the leader of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, countered that the money going to Metro and Virginia Railway Express wouldn't pay for expansion.
"Metro has said its No. 1 priority is improving infrastructure and its No. 2 priority is accommodating existing riders," Mr. Schwartz said. "The $250 million they have dedicated to infrastructure improvement is just a drop in the bucket."
He said the plan gives minimal support to public transit while providing a steady stream of funding for road projects on the outer fringes of the region.
Most of those areas are not accessible to mass transit.
Mr. Schwartz said the region's leaders need to address the underlying causes of the area's traffic problems.
"The real problem is the fundamental lack of effective local, regional and statewide planning," he said.
But Gov. Warner argued that failing to fund the projects will make the problem worse.
"Their alternative, doing nothing, means simply more congestion," he said. "Doing nothing is what got us here in the first place."

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