N.Va. Authority Is Insolvent, but Not Silent

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority wants motorists to submit videos of their commutes (
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority wants motorists to submit videos of their commutes ("family-friendly," please) online. (By Mark Wilson -- Getty Images)
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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008

You've probably heard of the "Got Milk?" ad campaign. But "Got Congestion?"

Now that it has been stripped of its ability to build roads and transit, the broke and powerless Northern Virginia Transportation Authority thinks it might have found a cheap and effective way to lobby Richmond legislators: on YouTube.

The NVTA is asking Northern Virginia motorists to make videos of their miserable commutes and post them on its YouTube page. The commission will screen videos before posting them on (It asks that drivers not drive while holding video cameras and notes that Metro prohibits tripods on its trains and platforms.)

But the biggest roadblock will be ensuring that the videos are "family-friendly."

"I know you wouldn't want to see or hear any videos of me when I'm stuck in traffic," said David F. Snyder, an NVTA member from Falls Church.

The YouTube effort is part of an Internet-based lobbying campaign by NVTA to regain its money and clout after the Virginia Supreme Court recently ruled that its taxing power was unconstitutional. The main reason NVTA members are turning to the Internet is because it's free. The NVTA has returned the $12 million it collected in fees and taxes since Jan. 1.

"It's sad we have to do it," said Martin E. Nohe of Prince William County, the commission's vice chairman, referring to the need to push for more money for roads and transit. "We thought we had passed this stage, but we're going to do it with gusto."

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) is expected to call a special session to deal with transportation funding. But it is unclear whether legislators will find a way to restore funding to the NVTA, which planned to spend more than $300 million a year in transportation improvements.

NVTA members hope commuters use the YouTube videos to tell their stories about how the region's congestion is affecting their quality of life.

"It's the personal stories that are the most compelling," said authority member Sharon S. Bulova of Fairfax County. "It brings home what this really is about."

Authority officials are also circulating an online petition and e-mailing an advertisement campaign, "Got Congestion?"

Nohe, though, ruled out having the campaign depict commuters with "gasoline mustaches," worrying that it would be "too dangerous."

To mark locations where NVTA money would have paid for improvements and led eventually to ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the NVTA is planning to instead host two "black ribbon tying" events at the Franconia-Springfield Metrorail station and on the side of Prince William Parkway.

The ribbon will have to be donated, because there is no money in the budget, authority officials said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company