Who Will Engineer a Transportation Solution?

WILLIAM J. HOWELL (Larry Morris/twp - Twp)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 15, 2005

What happens when the engineers of three locomotives are blindfolded and driving at full speed on the same track?

A train wreck.

Could that be where Virginia is headed -- for its third legislative collision in six years, this time over the issue of the state's transportation system?

Say it isn't so.

It's too early to make any firm predictions. And it's certainly possible that 2006 ends up resembling 2005, when the House of Delegates, the state Senate and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) easily found their way to a compromise that pumped some new one-time money into congestion relief.

But with the General Assembly session fast approaching, there are already signs that 2006 might turn out more like the 2001 and 2004 budget confrontations.

Like blindfolded conductors, the three men who are guiding Virginia's political trains -- Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D), House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland) -- do not yet know where they are going.

And yet each is pushing ahead with promises to confront the state's decades-old transportation problem. In the process, they are raising the public's expectations to a level not seen since 1986.

Kaine is being the most aggressive. As he promised during the just-ended campaign, Kaine has spent several weeks holding town hall meetings across Virginia. Hundreds of people have attended them, and Kaine says the one clear message is the sense of urgency that everyone feels.

At the meetings and in speeches and interviews, Kaine says it's time for him and the legislature to act to finally solve Virginia's transportation problem. "Governors don't pick issues," he says. "Issues pick governors."

So far, Kaine has not offered any sense of how he wants to deal with the issue. Will he seek to raise taxes to pay for billions in state road and transit construction? If he knows -- and it's not clear that he does yet -- he's not sharing.

"It's half-written in pencil with an eraser that's already used," Kaine said of his transportation plan during an interview this week.

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