The House of Delegates approved today a $57 million state bond for construction of a toll highway to run parallel to the Dulles Access Road in western Fairfax County. The 87-to-11 vote clears the way for construction to begin late next year.
"This is the most critical road need in the state of Virginia," said Del. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax), who managed the bill on the House floor. After a long debate, during which two Arlington delegates called the road a bad idea, Barry easily obtained the two-thirds vote needed to make the state responsible for the bond.
The bill's supporters said construction of the toll road would ease the traffic bottleneck surrounding Tysons Corner on Rte. 7 in western Fairfax, where the average rush hour travel time exceeds one hour on a seven-mile stretch of roadway between Reston and the Capital Beltway. About 50,000 cars a day use that section of Rte 7.
Fairfax and Loudoun counties, the state highway department and Gov. John N. Dalton have all approved the toll road idea.
During yesterday's debate, Arlington Democratic delegates Mary A. Marshall and Warren G. Stambaugh raised the possibility that commuters, accustomed to driving on free roads in Northern Virginia, might choose not to pay a toll and leave the state holding a $57 million debt. Del. Robert B. Ball (D-Henrico) urged the House not to support the bond measure because Northern Virginia had no "track record" on toll roads.
But Raymond E. Vickery (D-Fairfax), a staunch supporter of the toll road, belittled the possibility of a default. "The track record is made daily by 100,000 people who are penned up in western Fairfax County," he said.
Barry said highway department studies show the possibility of default on the bond "is so remote that it shouldn't even be considered."
The toll road, according to Barry, initially will have a 25-cent toll, which will be raised to 50 cents as commuters become accustomed to driving on the highway. The existing four lanes going from the Capitol Beltway to Dulles International Airport are restricted to airport traffic only.
The toll road measure, sponsored by Sen. Omer L. Hirst (D-Fairfax), earlier had passed without opposition in the Senate.
In a vote that brought a sharp party confrontation, the Democratic-controlled House voted 61 to 33 to take away Republican Attorney General Marshall Coleman's authority to choose lawyers to represent the state in some highway condemnation cases.
Coleman raised bitter objections from Democrats last year when he replaced Democratic lawyers with Republicans in many parts of the state. Since Coleman is the first Republican attorney general in state history, the patronage jobs had almost always been held by Democrats.
Some legislators and senior highway officials complained that the turnover of lawyers could bring inexperienced legal advice to the state in setting the cost of highway land acquisition.
The bill, already passed by the Senate, would assign highway condemnation cases to full-time city and county attorneys.
The House also passed a bill, 46 to 43, that would reduce the maximum penalty for the first offense of marijuana possession from a year in jail and a $1,000 fine to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The bill now goes to a conference committee.
In other action, the House voted to postpone passage until next year of a bill intended to resolve a conflict between Fairfax County and Alexandria that led last June to the erection of a traffic-blocking fence in the residential community of Dowden Terrace.
Del. Gladys B. Keating (D-Fairfax) failed to push through an amended bill that would have allowed the feuding jurisdictions to go to an impartial circuit court judge to resolve their disputes. The so-called "Berlin Wall" or "Great Wall of Alexandria" has provoked heated squabbles between delegates and senators representing the two jurisdictions.
During the debate yesterday on the bill -- a debate that appeared to bore all but delegates from Northern Virginia -- one southern Virginia delegate said "this is the dumbest bill I've ever seen."
The House also voted, 50 to 47, to reject a Senate-passed bill that would have permitted the state Board of Elections to review complaints about violations of the state's fair election practices law.
"It is quite obvious that the long knives are out after this bill," argued Vickery, who claimed that the existing law, which gives the election board no authority to decide if an election violation has occurred, is a "fraud on the public."
Under the current law, which requires candidates for state office to file a report on campaign contributors, enforcement is left to the state attorney general and local common-wealth's attorneys.
The Senate yesterday approved a House-passed bill to require cities and counties in Northern Virginia and elsewhere in the state to advertise property tax increases that might result from increased real estate assessments.