Va. Speaker to Attempt To Void Toll Road Deal

House Speaker William J. Howell, at podium, shown in February, said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine failed to adequately review proposals from four firms.
House Speaker William J. Howell, at podium, shown in February, said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine failed to adequately review proposals from four firms. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 1, 2006

RICHMOND, March 31 Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said Friday that he will try to undo the deal signed this week by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) that gives control of the Dulles Toll Road to the region's airports authority unless it is substantially altered.

Howell, the legislature's most powerful lawmaker, said Kaine had failed to adequately review proposals from four companies that might have been more lucrative for the state. Howell said he would seek legislation giving lawmakers more power to influence the arrangement.

"We could have legislation that says any deal like this has to go through a . . . process where you have reviews of proposals," Howell said during a news conference, where he repeated his opposition to the arrangement. He said he would wait to see whether Kaine heeded his concerns before acting.

"We could put in legislation that says a deal of this magnitude can't be done without approval of the legislature," he added.

When asked directly whether he intended to try to reverse the arrangement, he said: "I'm sure going to try."

On Monday, Kaine signed a deal with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that allows the authority to set tolls on the major commuter route and to control many aspects of the planned Metrorail line from Falls Church to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. Tolls would help pay for the rail line.

Kaine's press secretary said the deal has the support of GOP lawmakers in Congress and the House of Delegates whose constituents use the toll road, including Sen. John W. Warner and Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Thomas M. Davis III, as well as Fairfax Dels. Thomas Davis Rust and Vincent F. Callahan Jr. Kevin Hall, the press secretary, said Howell was flouting the support from powerful members of his own party.

"I would suggest that the speaker's antics today were rash and irresponsible," Hall said. He rejected Howell's contention that the governor's office had not adequately vetted other proposals. "This is a proposal that is supported . . . by the region's congressional delegation, General Assembly delegation and business community," he said. "The proposal will allow the faster and cheaper completion of the entire project."

Supporters of the deal say it would remove much of the uncertainty surrounding the nearly $4 billion project to build a rail line through Tysons Corner, Reston and the airport and into Loudoun County because the airports authority would assume responsibility for the state and federal portion of the cost.

Howell said that if he chose to follow through on his concerns, he could do so immediately. The legislature is holding a special session on transportation, and Howell's chief aide, G. Paul Nardo, suggested that language giving the General Assembly more control over the process could be placed in the state's two-year budget. The move would have to be supported by the state Senate, and Kaine could veto such a bill.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company