Opposition Building Over Toll Road Deal
Thursday, March 30, 2006
RICHMOND, March 29 -- Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said that the deal to give control of the Dulles Toll Road to the region's airports authority is "shortsighted" and that he is examining whether it can be blocked.
In an interview Wednesday, Howell said the administration of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) had failed to adequately review competing proposals from four private companies that might have been more lucrative for the commonwealth.
"I don't understand what the rush was," Howell said. "It's fair to say that I'd sure like to do something. But I don't know what that is."
Howell's objections add another powerful voice in opposition to the deal, which has bipartisan support in Congress and the state legislature and among Northern Virginia business leaders. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry E. Connolly (D) has been a vocal critic. He said the deal does not protect the interests of toll-paying commuters.
On Tuesday, Arlington County Board member Barbara A. Favola (D) said local officials don't believe the airports authority board can be held accountable by Northern Virginians. She called on the authority to add a locally appointed member to "give some sense of what the average citizen might think."
It is unclear whether Howell, Connolly or others could block a final agreement between the state and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The deal allows the authority to set tolls on a major local commuter route and to control many aspects of the planned Metrorail line from Falls Church to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.
Howell accused Kaine and state transportation officials of paying scant attention to companies that had spent millions of dollars developing proposals to run the lucrative toll road.
"These vendors are going to say, 'I don't think they even looked at our proposal,' " Howell said. "I don't see how [state officials] could have analyzed them with the deliberation that is appropriate."
Delacey Skinner, Kaine's communications director, said: "The governor has confidence in the airports authority to do this. That's kind of the end of it."
She said Howell and other members of the Republican-led House of Delegates should be spending their time working on a state budget and a plan for road and transit funding.
"The House Republican leadership doesn't have time to work on transportation," Skinner said. "But they have time to criticize everything. That's unfortunate."