Legislative session not expected to solve Northern Virginia's transportation woes

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 10:30 PM

Del. Vivian E. Watts has lifted the hopes of Northern Virginia officials by promising to push for a comprehensive plan that would allow the region to raise and spend its own money to repair its dilapidated transportation network.

It's legislative priority No. 1 in the region. Too bad no one, including Watts (D-Fairfax), thinks the General Assembly will pass the bill.

Yet some delegates also think this year's legislative session could be pivotal in shifting the debate over transportation funding and the traditional balance of power between Northern Virginia and the rest of the commonwealth. Thanks to sweeping demographic changes recorded by the 2010 census, Northern Virginia's influence in the legislature is expected to grow, perhaps clearing the way for transportation solutions that have eluded the region for years.

"The redistricting decisions we make could have as significant an impact on transportation spending as anything we do, possibly because it's going to tip the balance of the decision-making to Northern Virginia," said Del. James M. LeMunyon (R-Fairfax).

The Virginia General Assembly convened Wednesday in Richmond and will consider thousands of bills that could reshape laws governing guns, schools, highways, taxes and state spending. Among the top issues will be transportation, economic development and privatization of state-owned liquor stores.

When Fairfax adopted its annual legislative program in December, its no-frills wish list resembled its 2010 package except in one important respect - the habitual plea to address a structural lack of transportation funding in Northern Virginia struck a tone more desperate than ever.

Few say that a plan recently announced by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) - which relies on $2.9 billion in debt and $400 million from a budgetary surplus and previously unaccounted funds - will be enough to make up for years of neglect.

The need to address Northern Virginia's roads virtually overshadows other concerns and initiatives. But there are those, of course, too.

The county has expressed concern about the overall government spending that has shifted the burden from Richmond to local jurisdictions. Fairfax also asked its legislators to be vigilant against any attempt to require Northern Virginia to shoulder more of the financial burden than the region already does.

At the urging of Fairfax County Police Chief David M. Rohrer, the supervisors this year also want tougher laws to protect aging adults from fraud. Backers say scams against elderly residents jumped 50 percent between 2008 and 2009.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) - whose duties will involve shaping the budget while also chairing the committee in charge of Senate redistricting - vowed to push for mandated insurance coverage for families with autistic children.

Difficult budget

But members of the delegation predicted that most of the General Assembly session will be once again overshadowed by a difficult budget.

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