Virginia To Weigh Impact Of Projects

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 28, 2006

The state government has a huge stake in local development decisions and is going to become increasingly involved by measuring traffic impact and other effects before large-scale projects are built, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said in an interview last week.

Kaine said his administration will be looking for more opportunities to gauge the effects of local land-use decisions, such as the study he ordered on the traffic impact of building about 30,000 homes west of Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.

Kaine (D) brushed off criticism from developers and local officials that his administration's direct management of the traffic analysis was politically motivated and meddlesome in the affairs of Loudoun government.

Kaine ran last year on the promise of doing more to contain growth. He won Loudoun partly on that promise and said he will do what he can to fulfill it.

"It's a dramatic change in direction," Kaine said. "The goal is to elevate the upfront discussion in the public eye and make the decisions in a much more thoughtful way upfront, rather than making land-use decisions one after the next and then waiting 15 years to see what the impact is going to be."

After a bruising legislative session in which several key anti-sprawl proposals were defeated, Kaine said he would renew his commitment to changing how Virginia will grow, and the Loudoun traffic study was a first step. He called the issue "every bit as important" as his push to increase transportation spending.

But the influential development industry -- key Kaine supporters and campaign contributors -- is becoming more vocal in its opposition. "I'm not anti-development," the governor said. "It's not development that causes population growth. It's jobs and economic growth. But if we're going to try to manage growth wisely, what is it we have to do? We have a way of planning in Virginia that is fundamentally broken."

Some of Kaine's top aides managed the Loudoun traffic study, which examined the impact of the proposed Dulles South project. 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.

The Virginia Department of Transportation 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.

Kaine's decision to bring his growth agenda to Loudoun was not arbitrary, he said; in fact, it's more accurate to say that the state's fastest-growing county delivered the growth issue to him.

In November, Kaine became the first Democrat in 16 years to take Loudoun in a gubernatorial election. Political observers agreed that he won Loudoun -- and perhaps Virginia -- on the strength of his campaign promise to give local governments more tools to control home building.

Kaine, the former mayor of Richmond, is among a growing list of politicians in Virginia -- Republicans and Democrats, mostly from such fast-growing regions as Northern Virginia, the Richmond area and Hampton Roads -- who are listening to an electorate demanding solutions to the traffic, sprawl and rising taxes that growth has wrought.

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