To raise $500 million a year for regional transportation projects, Washington-area drivers would pay $1 tolls on the American Legion and Woodrow Wilson bridges, $1 more a day for parking and higher gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, under a proposal released yesterday.
The proposal will be considered by a 29-member group of elected officials and residents from the District, Maryland and Virginia who are trying to develop a new master plan for transportation and growth in the region.
Release of the proposal comes at a time when several groups are floating ideas for areawide taxes to finance the region's road and transit projects because the needs far outstrip local governments' ability to pay for them.
The regional planning agency, the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments, estimates the area's transportation needs at $500 million a year through the year 2010.
A Maryland commission on tax policy recommended yesterday an $800 million tax increase, some of which would go for transportation. Last week, a commission studying the District's finances proposed a series of new regional taxes, including a payroll tax, to finance major transportation projects.
The transportation panel, put together by COG, had intended to take action on some or all of the proposal yesterday, but backed off after some of the elected officials on the panel became nervous about approving a politically sensitive plan that is certain to upset many drivers.
"If the elected officials aren't comfortable with this, it just dies," said Bruce T. Adams, a Montgomery County Council member and the group's co-chairman. His proposal for a parking tax in Montgomery was scuttled this year.
Instead of approving a plan by December, before the legislatures in Maryland and Virginia begin meeting in January, the group agreed to postpone final action on much of the plan until early next year, when they hope to influence the regional debate on transportation financing.
"I'm not trying to duck the hard issues," said Adams, who led the effort to postpone consideration of the proposal. "We just need more time to build a regional consensus."
Other panel members, most of them citizen representatives, said they were prepared to take action on the plan yesterday and accused others in the group of backtracking after agreeing last summer to approve a plan by the end of the year.
"I think we're starting to back away from what I thought we were here to do," said George Cook, president of Colonial Parking in the District.
The other co-chairman, Lilla D. Richards, a Fairfax supervisor, said she was surprised at the change of course yesterday and accused some in the group of undercutting those who have spent considerable time on the plan.
"I suppose it's better to delay than have it wrong," she said.
Though the group's plan will speak in broad terms about the need to reduce the region's sprawling growth, the measure of the panel's success will be whether it can find ways to pay for the needed transportation projects it has identified.
With that in mind, the COG staff proposal drew up a plan to raise $500 million a year that included:
A $1 toll to be paid every time a driver crosses one of the Capital Beltway's two bridges. This would raise $125 million a year. The bridges now are free.
A $1 daily parking fee on the estimated 100,000 spaces in areas such as downtown Washington that are served by mass transit. This would raise $25 million a year.
A gasoline surcharge of 2 percent a gallon, which would raise $20 million a year. Northern Virginia has the same surcharge, but the new tax would be paid regionwide.
An increase of $50 a vehicle a year in registration fees, raising $125 million a year.
The plan also calls for higher federal and state gasoline taxes and fees on developers who build projects in the region and benefit from the transportation network.
Money collected would go to a regional transportation authority or a special purpose district that would plan and build the project, according to the proposal.
For example, said COG transportation director Ronald F. Kirby, money from the bridge tolls on the Beltway could be funneled to a special purpose district that would oversee Beltway projects, including the widening of the Wilson Bridge.
Adams said that the panel will consider the financing proposals, but he could not predict how many of them will be adopted.