By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The paralyzing traffic of Northern Virginia served as a backdrop yesterday for President Obama and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to lobby for swift passage of a federal stimulus bill that would direct billions of dollars to badly needed infrastructure projects across the country.
But even as House and Senate leaders reached agreement yesterday over the details of a $789 billion package, it was unclear whether the dusty construction site of the Fairfax County Parkway, where Obama and Kaine (D) stood yesterday, would qualify for help.
The project is about $60 million short. But dozens of others like it across the state are also awaiting money, and state and local officials say they don't know how the federal money will be distributed or with what strings attached. With a maximum of about $750 million in transportation funding expected to flow to Virginia from the stimulus package, it's no wonder that Obama and Kaine offered the parkway as a terrific candidate -- but not necessarily a surefire winner.
Obama and Kaine said that finishing the final, 1.9-mile leg of the Fairfax County Parkway is a perfect example of the type of project the stimulus could fund. Thirty years in the making, the parkway stretches about 35 miles from Great Falls to Richmond Highway, except for a crucial leg along Interstate 95.
"Here in Virginia, my plan will create or save almost 100,000 jobs, doing work at sites just like this one," Obama told reporters on a windy hilltop not far from I-95, about 20 miles south of Washington. "Where we're standing, that could mean hundreds of construction jobs. And the benefits of jobs we create directly will multiply across the economy."
Completion of the parkway has been a top regional priority for years. The urgency grew in 2005, when Congress approved a military base closure and realignment initiative that will send 19,500 jobs to nearby Fort Belvoir by 2011. The road is especially critical, Kaine said, to serve the Engineer Proving Ground, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will move 8,500 jobs.
"We'll improve direct interstate access for businesses and residents and will serve this . . . critical agency," Kaine said, pointing through a stand of trees to the construction site of the intelligence agency's new headquarters. "That's just an example of one project that could be funded under this stimulus plan."
Kaine also said that completing the parkway would pump millions into the local economy and add hundreds of onsite construction jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs.
But so would many other highway projects. In the Merrifield area of Fairfax County, a long-planned revamping of the intersection of Lee Highway and Gallows Road awaits $40 million for construction. State transportation leaders recently put on hold portions of the widening of Interstate 66's westbound lanes inside the Capital Beltway.
And that's just in Northern Virginia. State transportation leaders have cut $2.2 billion from the six-year, $10.6 billion highway improvement plan. And legislators in Richmond want a say in how any stimulus money is spent.
"If the stimulus comes with instructions, we'll have to follow the instructions," said state Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). "But if I have any authority over any of the money, I'd like to have a say in it."