My Road to Smoother Transportation in Virginia

Cars crawl through midday traffic in Tysons Corner last year.
Cars crawl through midday traffic in Tysons Corner last year. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Creigh Deeds
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The first job of the next governor of Virginia is to restore confidence in our economy, and the best way to do that is through fixing our state transportation system.

Our transportation infrastructure is crumbling around us. More than 4,000 bridges are structurally deficient, we can't keep up with basic maintenance of roads, and there is almost no state money for new road construction or rail and transit improvements.

In the plan laid out on my Web site, I share my views that we need to:

-- Bring high-speed rail to Virginia.

-- Reduce congestion (and commute times) in Northern Virginia.

-- Expand freight and passenger rail.

-- Maximize economic opportunities linked to the Port of Virginia.

-- Utilize bus rapid transit.

-- Expand the capacity of critical Hampton Roads water crossings and emergency evacuation routes.

-- Reduce rush-hour traffic through telecommuting and flex-time tax credits.

-- Promote smarter land-use planning.

-- And expand road and rail projects in Southwest and Southside Virginia.

We all largely agree about what's needed to fix our infrastructure. Where my opponent and I disagree is how to accomplish those improvements. I believe we should use the only approach that has succeeded in the past two decades.

The last time Virginia passed meaningful transportation funding was in 1986, under Gov. Gerald Baliles (D), who created a commission to provide recommendations and build support for financing. Since then, each time a governor has presented a proposal to the General Assembly to raise meaningful transportation revenue, it has failed.

The day after I'm elected, I will begin assembling a bipartisan commission to craft a comprehensive transportation package. Like Gov. Baliles did, I will appoint Republicans, Democrats and independents along with private-sector leaders and transportation experts. The commission would begin work in December and issue its report early next year.

There must be a nexus between funding and those who use our transportation system -- Virginians and those from other states. Virginia needs a bipartisan plan that must have enough funding to deal with our multibillion-dollar backlog and make the needed investments for our future. All funding options are on the table except taking money from education and other obligations met by Virginia's general fund.

I will not let lawmakers go home until we pass a comprehensive transportation plan -- our economic future depends on this.

Let me be clear regarding taxes. I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution. As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I'll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation -- even if it includes new taxes.

To build a bipartisan consensus to find that new revenue, and to ensure the best chance of passage, all options for funding will be on the table. We will need every legislator committed to finding a solution. In my 18 years in the legislature, I've learned that the best way to reach compromise is to be open to all ideas and get everyone involved.

Bob McDonnell has pledged not to sign a transportation bill with new revenue. His approach is to pay for transportation with money from the general fund. As The Post's Frederick Kunkle has reported, "general funds are raised from a variety of sources, such as individual and corporate income taxes. These funds can be spent . . . at the discretion of the General Assembly and the governor. The majority of the money in the general fund goes to education (45.9 percent), with the rest to health and human resources (24.2 percent) and public safety (11.1 percent)."

I do not support taking funds from these critical priorities to pay for roads. More important, neither will the General Assembly. Republicans and Democrats are on record opposing McDonnell's funding proposals.

McDonnell's idea of using general funds for transportation is not new. In 2007, an editorial in the Daily Press of Hampton Roads said that McDonnell urged "the General Assembly to exploit the gap in state road funding as a rationale for reducing state spending on education, public safety, health care and conservation. That such an ideological purpose lies behind the Republican transportation proposal has been implied all along. McDonnell made it explicit."

We can't solve this problem without new revenue. My opponent is playing political shell games, being dishonest about his revenue projections. And his idea to take funds from education, health care and public safety to pay for transportation is dead on arrival.

My approach is honest, straightforward -- and the only one that can succeed. Working together, we'll get Virginia moving again.

The writer, a state senator in Virginia, is the Democratic nominee for governor.

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