E-Mails Reveal Kaine Aides' Hand in Loudoun Traffic Study
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
High-ranking officials in Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's administration personally managed a traffic study that predicts severe gridlock if Loudoun County officials approve the controversial Dulles South building proposal, according to government e-mails released yesterday by a pro-growth advocate.
The e-mails also indicate that the state engineers conducting the research were uncomfortable with doing the study because the Virginia Department of Transportation had never done a report that focused on the regional impact of a development project.
Administration officials said that the results of the study are not in dispute and that it was important to inform the public of the effects of development.
But an official with the pro-growth group that released the e-mails said the exchanges prove what critics said when the study came out: that it was politically motivated and timed to influence Loudoun supervisors as they debated whether to allow more than 28,000 new homes near Dulles International Airport. Supervisors were scheduled to consider the proposal just days after the study's release last month but delayed their vote until September.
"It's clear that there was a political agenda that was being orchestrated," said Brian Roherty of the Right Growth Policy Institute, a new advocacy group in Loudoun. Roherty provided the e-mails to The Washington Post after obtaining them through the Freedom of Information Act. "Someone in Richmond made a decision, whether it was the governor's office or the Department of Transportation, to carry it out."
The e-mails show that Pierce R. Homer, the state transportation secretary, personally edited the study in part to make the traffic impact more meaningful to the public, according to one e-mail.
In another, VDOT engineer William W. Mann congratulated the study team for helping to show "what the taxpayers of Virginia would be stuck with if this proposed development gets approved."
In another exchange, Kaine's chief of staff, William H. Leighty, called a meeting to discuss the study's upcoming release.
To all that, Kaine's spokesman, Kevin Hall, said: So what? The study analyzed the regional impact of development -- which is exactly what Kaine (D) and the General Assembly called for in a new law unanimously approved this year, he said.
"There's an overwhelming legislative mandate for this kind of information being made to local officials," Hall said. "The fact that the chief of staff convenes a meeting to discuss what's next is not surprising and doesn't show any kind of undue influence."
At issue is a largely undeveloped, 9,200-acre tract of farmland and two-lane roads just west of the airport where a half-dozen major developers hope to build thousands of homes in coming years. The VDOT study, the first of its kind to scrutinize the regional impact of development, predicted hours of daily gridlock on more than a dozen major roads and highways in Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax counties.
Because it was never done before, some VDOT engineers were uncomfortable when they found themselves in the middle of a roiling local political debate.