Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, fresh from a legislative session that gave him new funds to begin tackling the state's complex highway needs, pledged last night to accelerate construction of hundreds of road projects, including many in Northern Virginia.
Speaking to a receptive audience in Arlington, Baliles declined to identify what Northern Virginia projects might have priority in his two-month-old administration.
He said he will await the results of a study of the state's road needs -- an evaluation being made by a transportation commission he appointed in January -- before deciding to ask for "financing alternatives such as tolls and special transportation districts" or other new taxes. The commission's report is due Aug. 1.
But Baliles said "a speed-up of the construction process on hundreds of projects" will be possible because of the General Assembly's passage of a measure raising the price of gasoline 1.6 cents per gallon. It is designed to increase the state's road-planning funds by $47.5 million a year over the next two years.
"Because the General Assembly faced the future and supported our efforts to raise the gas tax . . . we can proceed with the planning and with the rights-of-way acquisition that, without the start-up funds, we would not have been able to begin," he said.
Baliles' made his remarks during a speech and question-and-answer session with about 250 members of the Arlington Committee of 100, a coalition of activists in civic and school affairs.
Although he addressed his administration's goals in education, housing, prison reform and several social and health issues, Baliles focused on transportation. He said he considers the subject of such "critical and crucial importance" that he created the commission and called for a special September legislative session to address the problem.
Baliles, who reaffirmed his support for the Metro transit system and growth at Dulles International Airport, won standing ovations from the audience, many of whose members were leaders in the antihighway fights of the past decade.
Stressing that he would not allow "yesterday's assumptions to dictate" today's solutions, he also noted that the rapid growth that has transformed Northern Virginia into its own employment center has created new strains on the local road network that must be relieved.