The multibillion-dollar transportation program endorsed by Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles on Monday won cautious praise yesterday from Northern Virginia developers and government officials.
While applauding Baliles' commission on transportation for taking an innovative first step toward alleviating the state's transportation problems, most developers and officials contacted yesterday said the plan fell short of what is required to solve a problem that they say has reached crisis proportions.
"It's an absolute minimum of what is needed, but I'm pleased at the progress that's being made," said Victor G. Trapasso, president of G.T. Investments Co., developers of the Ramada Renaissance complex near Dulles International Airport.
Trapasso, whose property is on heavily congested Rte. 28 in northwestern Fairfax County, said an infusion of state funds over several years will enable developers to perform "rational, long-term planning."
The plan, unveiled Monday by Baliles' commission on transportation, calls for an increase in the state general sales and gasoline taxes to raise money for road improvements and other transportation projects throughout Virginia. The commission estimated that the state could raise $571.5 million a year by increasing the sales tax from 4 percent to 4.75 percent, raising the gasoline tax from 15 cents to 19 cents a gallon and doubling the special sales tax on new vehicles.
The commission urged the expenditure of $11.8 billion in state and federal funds over the next decade on transportation projects in the state.
"It's something that should have been done 10 years ago," said Sidney O. Dewberry, president of Dewberry & Davis architects and engineers of Fairfax. Dewberry credited Baliles with "taking some real bold and imaginative steps" to meet the state's transportation needs.
But Dewberry was skeptical about the long-range impact of the proposed appropriations. He said the plan "will not raise enough money to take care of the problems" and called for an even greater increase in the state gasoline tax.
State Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a Fairfax Republican, echoed that concern about funding and forecast trouble for the proposal. He said that the program risked a voter backlash because of the sales tax increase and that it should be funded chiefly through state general obligation bonds.
"I give them an A for effort and a B-minus for their final product," Callahan said of the Commission on Transportation Into the 21st Century.
Another Fairfax Republican, County Board Chairman John F. Herrity, expressed reservations about the proposal. In an offhand remark at a county board meeting Monday night, Herrity referred to the group as the "19th Century Transportation Commission."
The commission's recommendations, which will be considered in September in a special session of the General Assembly, include funding for a number of much-sought road projects in Northern Virginia. They include the widening of the Dulles Toll Road and its possible extension into Loudoun County; the widening of Sully Road (Va. Rte. 28) in western Fairfax and Loudoun counties; the completion of the Springfield bypass, a major cross-county artery in Fairfax, and construction of an outer beltway between Fredericksburg, Va., and the Frederick, Md., area.
The program is "going to make a big difference," said Albert J. Dwoskin, president of A.J. Dwoskin & Associates, a Fairfax-based developer. "A lot of people have run for office promising to do something about the road problems. Gov. Baliles seems to be doing it."
John G. Milliken, chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, a public agency that plans and assists in financing the region's transportation system, also was pleased with the plan.
"Overall, if people understand the money being asked for will go directly to transportation needs they know we have, I think people will accept" the tax increases, Milliken said. But, he added, the legislature "needs to look again at the sales tax on food and nonprescription drugs and see if some exemption can be worked into the package."
Fairfax County Supervisor Audrey Moore, an Annandale district Democrat, added her support to the plan. "I'm very pleased with it," Moore said. "I didn't expect miracles. I didn't think they would turn the state's whole credit rating over to solving the transportation problems in Virginia."