- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2005

When it comes to resolving gridlock in a region ranked third nationally for traffic problems, the candidates for Virginia governor are riding in the same vehicle — at least along part of the road.

They agree traffic threatens Northern Virginia’s economic development and quality of life.

“It’s critical. The next governor is going to have to move decisively and quickly,” said former Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, Republican candidate for governor.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic nominee, agrees the problem has been a lack of leadership, saying growth in Northern Virginia got ahead of planned infrastructure.

Both candidates want to put the trust back in the state’s transportation trust fund with a constitutional amendment to protect it from legislative raids.

And while neither candidate wants to levy any new taxes for transportation, Mr. Kilgore is willing to let residents decide. He proposes giving the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission the power to identify transportation priorities and propose taxes to pay for them. Voters then would decide in a referendum.

Mr. Kilgore also would like a constitutional amendment to allow taxes raised by local authorities for transportation projects to stay in that area without having to go through Richmond.

Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin said Northern Virginia voters rejected a half-cent increase in the sales tax for transportation projects in 2002 because they didn’t trust Richmond with the money.

Mr. Martin realizes getting a constitutional amendment to bypass Richmond would take years. In the meantime, Mr. Kilgore vows to veto any budget that tries to make the money come through Richmond first.

“This is a priority,” Mr. Martin said. “It is something he will act on in the first legislative session.”

A Kaine spokeswoman criticized the plan as too slow.

“I supported Northern Virginia’s right to have a referendum [in 2002], but that’s no substitute for leadership at the state level,” Mr. Kaine said.

A regional transportation specialist is not impressed with what he has heard so far from the candidates.

“They’re talking to the issue, but they’re not putting something out there to get it done,” said John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

Mr. McClain salutes the idea of giving more control to a local transportation body. But he warns it would be too slow to solve critical transportation problems he expects will only get worse if military jobs leave Arlington and Alexandria for Fort Belvoir.

Mr. McClain said the candidates should price critical road and transit projects, then raise the gasoline tax to pay for them.

“Show some leadership. Bite the bullet and do it,” advised Mr. McClain, adding, “I don’t have much hope.”

Neither candidate sounds likely to lobby the General Assembly to pass a quarter-percent regional sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia to give Metro a permanent source of funding. A blue-ribbon panel recommended the tax also be imposed in the District and parts of Maryland.

“I think it would have a real hard time because of questions about the management of Metro and its efficiency,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Kilgore said a regional sales-tax increase could be an issue for his more influential Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to decide and then put before voters.

When it comes to specific Northern Virginia road projects, the candidates split.

Mr. Kaine supports adding toll lanes to widen the Capital Beltway and would also like to widen Interstate 66 west of the Beltway. Mr. Kilgore supports widening I-66 east of the Beltway, which is mostly two lanes each way under an old agreement that got the road built.

Before deciding on the need for a new Potomac River bridge, Mr. Kaine wants more data on the number of “horseshoe” commutes, so named for the route people must take to travel between the Dulles area and Interstate 270 in Maryland.

Mr. Kilgore said he is prepared to take the lead in getting a new bridge, citing a 1960s planning report that recommended seven crossings to handle traffic.

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