- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED

This week, our Regional Transportation Planning Board delayed or canceled projects in every Northern Virginia jurisdiction as well as for the Virginia Railway Express. That’s because the week before last, Virginia lost a significant opportunity to strengthen the economy of the commonwealth, solve the congestion crisis, fix failing bridges across the state, and improve the quality of life for millions of our fellow citizens.

The demands on our transportation system continue to overwhelm the supply. Over the past 20 years, the capacity of our roadways has only grown 9 percent, while Virginians are traveling 80 percent more and own 61 percent more cars. There are 36 percent more drivers than in 1988. Unfortunately, some in the Republican leadership refuse to respond to this growing, critical need. They do not realize that transportation infrastructure is key to sustaining our quality of life and growing our economy.

Virginia is known as the best state in the nation to do business, a distinction which we are rightly proud. We also retain one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Our businesses depend on a strong transportation network to move products and materials to customers, factories and stores. Business leaders in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads are already feeling the pinch of aging infrastructure. Virginia’s long-term economic future depends on strong transportation investment. That is why the Chamber of Commerce, and business groups from across the commonwealth, joined Democrats to support new revenue for transportation.

Investing in transportation now also brought an immediate infusion of new jobs and capital investment in a struggling economy. During the recent legislative debate, the owner of a small bridge-building and construction firm approached me, and that he has had to lay off more than 50 employees in Prince William County. Investing in transportation and infrastructure projects could have meant more contracts and more jobs for his company. A $1 billion transportation investment would have created 35,000 new jobs.

Of course, transportation issues affect more than jobs and the economy. A stronger transportation system means that Virginians don’t have to spend hundreds of hours stuck in traffic. The average Virginian loses $1,000 a year in car repair costs and gas due to traffic. A transportation investment would mean that parents get home for dinner on time, or get a chance to make it to their kid’s soccer game. And a stronger transportation system is also a smarter one - a system that uses more mass transit and gas-saving incentives to promote a cleaner environment. We can’t solve this problem with roads alone or build our way out of it. We need 21st century solutions.

With all of these benefits and opportunities, the actions of the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates remain a shocking statement of ideological gamesmanship and indifference to the needs of Virginia. Democrats put no less than four complete, comprehensive transportation solutions on the table, only to have them attacked and voted down by the Republican House majority.

During the special session, Democrats from the House and the Senate proposed a compromise package. It met statewide needs for new construction as well as maintenance. Our plan, which I was proud to support and vote for, contained no increase in the gas tax. The last thing Virginians need are higher costs at the pump. And it cut the tax on food, as rising costs have made it more difficult for families to put dinner on the table. Above all, our plan was a shot in the arm to Virginia’s economy and a long-term investment in our business environment.

You can’t be pro-business while being anti-government. Government has an important role to play in strengthening our infrastructure, developing our economy and creating new jobs. When inflexible ideologies get in the way of simple facts, we get gridlock and failure - exactly the kind of backward leadership we saw in Richmond. And it is increasingly clear that the people of Virginia are rejecting it.

As a Northern Virginia business owner and parent, I know firsthand the negative impact on hours of productivity lost to business, family baseball games missed, and late dinners because of our congestion crisis. I vow to work with Democrats and Republicans to develop solutions to the traffic we face and the infrastructure demands ahead of us. Virginians demand and deserve no less.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, who represents Alexandria and Fairfax, is chairman of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus.

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