Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who suffered the crushing defeat Tuesday of two transportation bond proposals, said yesterday that he will develop a new statewide transportation plan, including ways to raise additional money.
Wilder, who had enthusiastically backed the use of the so-called pledge bonds in his election campaign but did little work this fall on their behalf, attempted to regroup yesterday by issuing a vague statement that raised more questions than it answered.
His top two transportation officials, Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Transportation Secretary John G. Milliken, declined to return telephone calls seeking information about his plan.
"The transportation needs of Virginia remain great," Wilder said. "Virginia needs a transportation plan in place that the people want and are willing to fund. And with the input of Virginia's citizens, I am prepared to move Virginia towards such a plan."
The statement did not say whether Wilder was considering tax increases for transportation, which some lawmakers believe are the only remaining option for reducing the state's $37 billion transportation shortfall through 2010. Up to now, Wilder has ruled out tax increases.
Within the next few days, Wilder spokesman Laura Dillard said, the governor will announce "a framework for proposals to be developed." But that announcement, she said, will not include recommendations for how to pay for them.
With all but five precincts statewide reporting, the proposal to allow the state to issue pledge bonds was defeated, 78 percent to 22 percent. A companion proposal permitting local governments to issue pledge bonds lost, 76 percent to 24 percent. The margins were similar in Northern Virginia.
Sen. Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-McLean) said, "The governor owes us one still. He knows Northern Virginia put him over the top. From time to time, he doffs his hat, but he needs to do more."
Pledge bonds, which do not require voter approval and would have been financed through transportation fees, were seen as the governor's one shot at getting more money pumped into projects. The state also can issue general obligation bonds, which are repaid from general tax revenue, but some officials questioned whether voters would approve them in the current atmosphere of anxiety about the economy.
The only remaining initiative in Wilder's transportation program is an attempt to win more federal money from Congress when it puts together a new highway program next year. That effort is chancy too, because Virginia will be competing with 49 other states.
Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Mount Vernon) said he could not imagine any new transportation funding proposal, other than raising taxes, that hasn't already been tried and shot down.
As much as $1.2 billion would have been available to state government and $2 billion to local governments from the pledge bonds to pour into highway and transit projects.
Although the state had not planned to use the money on any projects this year, said Virginia Transportation Commissioner Ray D. Pethtel, it lost a critical opportunity to accelerate the pace of major projects by several years, particularly in Northern Virginia.
For example, pledge bonds might have helped expedite the construction of 19 miles of permanent, reversible car pool lanes on Shirley Highway between Springfield and the Occoquan River, a $237 million project expected to be finished in the mid-1990s.
The state will spend about $36 million on the project this year, Pethtel said. A penny raised from gasoline taxes produces $35 million, which could be leveraged to borrow $350 million in pledge bonds.
That money could have completed the Shirley Highway project and freed up other money for car pool lanes on Interstate 66 between the Capital Beltway and Route 50 in Fairfax.
"If you can relieve the costs of just one high-cost project in an area, you have other money to spread around for other projects," Pethtel said.
As it is now, the state waits until it has accumulated about 70 percent of the cost of a project before starting. While fiscally prudent, the "pay as you go" approach extends projects over several years while the cost of acquiring land goes up, especially in Northern Virginia.
Dwight C. Holton, who headed the pledge bond campaign for Wilder, said it may be difficult for Northern Virginia lawmakers to return to Richmond asking for transportation money since the region turned down the proposals.
DuVal replied, "We can duck that easily by saying the rest of the state rejected it too."