- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

RICHMOND — More road-building collaborations between the state and private businesses and a greater emphasis on train and bus travel will be part of a transportation reform package Gov. Mark Warner plans to announce next week.

Mr. Warner said yesterday on his monthly radio show on WRVA in Richmond that he will include money to pay off debt owed on highway projects completed long ago and an infusion of cash from the projected $1 billion budget surplus into the state’s dedicated roads fund.

“My proposal is to take some of this money and put it into transportation, in effect, to repay the transportation trust fund for when it … lent money to the general fund when we were in the deficit days of the past couple of years,” he said.

Mr. Warner declined to discuss his proposal in detail, but it is clear that the amount of cash available for transportation from the excess revenue alone won’t be enough to substantially end the state’s lingering and worsening transportation problems.

Nor is the substantial current windfall likely to continue into 2007 or 2008 because of mandates to meet the skyrocketing costs for public education and Medicaid, fiscal analysts say.

Republican House and Senate leaders enter the legislative session next month in substantial agreement that the surplus will be limited to needs that don’t obligate the state to expenses that grow in later years.

“We’ve got to be prudent this year and use these funds for one-time expenditures, whether it’s one time on transportation in building new roads or new projects, whether it’s one time in terms of things that are not very sexy, like deferred maintenance on a lot of our buildings, our colleges,” Mr. Warner said.

The Democratic governor said a growing trend toward partnering with private investors to build roads could get more highways ready sooner and more cheaply.

“The same old way of building roads that we’ve done for the last 100 years shouldn’t be the only alternative,” Mr. Warner said, “and some of the public-private approaches out there need some gap financing to jump-start them.”

He will propose giving cities and counties greater authority and some funding to fix their transportation problems rather than wait for the overbooked and underfunded Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to do it.

“There are certain local jurisdictions that have been saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been waiting for years for VDOT to fix this intersection. Give us the money, VDOT, and let us try to manage the project and not go through all the bureaucracy.’ Well, we’d like to try that,” Mr. Warner said.

He said his initiative will expand the state’s focus on rail travel and bus systems.

Last month a task force that studied Virginia’s needs for passenger train service recommended greater access to rails, including lines that extend from Northern Virginia and Richmond across the state through Lynchburg, Roanoke and far Southwestern Virginia. The group also recommended a dedicated source of funding for rail transportation.

“Finally, we also have to make sure that we clean up our balance sheet,” Mr. Warner said.

At the start of his term, he said, the state still owed money on more than $800 million in highway projects “that the public was driving on.” That debt has been reduced to about $256 million, Mr. Warner said, adding that he wants to pay off the debt.

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