- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

In the wake of voters' decisive rejection of his tax-increase proposals for transportation in November, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has come forward with a much better idea: working with the General Assembly to reform the spending habits of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the agency responsible for overseeing major road projects in the state.

No Virginia agency is in more need of an overhaul than VDOT. In late November, it was hit with two embarrassing revelations. First, it admitted that it had failed to use more than $200 million in federal money available to it to repair bridges. Second, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a scathing report critiquing the state's performance in managing the I-95/I-395 Mixing Bowl project near Springfield. The report, issued by the agency's inspector-general's office (OIG), documented how VDOT's failure to accurately estimate expenses had caused the price of modernizing this major interchange to jump from $241 million in 1994 to $676.5 million now.

To address these problems, Mr. Warner would require VDOT to submit detailed financial plans for projects estimated at more than $100 million, as well as a complete list of funding sources from start to finish. "I'm glad that he is acknowledging you can develop a stronger transportation program without raising taxes," said incoming House Speaker William Howell, a Stafford Republican.

In a sign that the Warner administration is serious about changing the culture at VDOT, Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet announced last week that he is stopping a $15 million inspection contract on a road project in southern Virginia because it wasn't giving the taxpayers their money's worth. That's a small step in the right direction, and one that will have to be replicated time and time again in the coming months at VDOT.

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