Legislation that would give Northern Virginia and other urbanized areas more highway funds cleared the Senate Finance Committee today by a wide margin, forcing rural legislators to retreat to the Senate floor in their efforts to kill it.
The 13-to-2 vote followed intense weekend lobbying by both sides in what has been one of the most politically charged issues of the 1985 General Assembly. Today's vote sends the issue to the Senate floor where rural legislators are expected to mount a final effort to kill the bill, which has been approved by the House.
Even some Northern Virginia legislators, who have been some of the strongest proponents of the measure, were pitted against one another during the weekend maneuvering.
The fray began several days ago when the state highway department -- at the urging of several rural legislators -- issued new figures on the amount of road money counties would receive under the new plan.
Although it was only one in a series of comparative charts that have been floated in legislative offices over the last several weeks, it showed the most dramatic losses yet for some rural counties.
The highway department figures showed for the first time that in addition to losing money to some urban areas, many rural counties would lose money because of a special $30 million bridge fund that would primarily benefit the Southwest and Tidewater regions.
"They were playing games with figures," charged Sen. Clive L. DuVal II (D-Fairfax), who has been a leading proponent of changes in the way highway money is distributed.
Another supporter, Democratic Sen. Charles L. Waddell, wasn't so sure. Waddell -- who represents a portion of Fairfax County, which will benefit under the plan, and Loudoun County, which will suffer -- said the new figures had almost persuaded him to oppose the measure.
Waddell said the figures indicated that Loudoun would lose about $500,000 because "we don't have that many bridges that need attention . . . . It would be so devastating it would have been very difficult for me to continue to support it."
In an effort to shore up eroding support of the overall bill, its proponents deleted the bridge fund today and reallocated the money to the general highway fund where it exists under current law.
The Senate committee approved the amended bill before a crowded committee room that included members of rural boards of local supervisors, some of whom drove more than 300 miles to testify.
Patrick County Administrator Barney Day told the committee the new road formulas would "sentence the rural areas to economic oblivion" by depriving them of much-needed roads.
Legislators from rapidly growing suburban and urban areas argue that their cities have long been shortchanged by the state road formulas.
"Nobody thinks they're getting enough highway money," Del. D. Cleaves Manning (D-Portsmouth) told the committee, adding, "This moves us a little bit closer to fairness for all areas of the state.