RICHMOND, FEB. 14 -- The Virginia House Committee on Roads narrowly approved a resolution today calling for the creation of a regional group to study the feasibility and location of an outer bypass that would divert traffic around the Washington suburbs.
The current resolution is a compromise of an earlier proposal that ran into a storm of criticism because it endorsed a western bypass near Dulles International Airport -- opposed by many Northern Virginia civic activists and politicians -- over an eastern route that would skirt most of Northern Virginia.
That language was stripped from the resolution approved today. Inserted in its place was a series of environmental safeguards, development controls and other hurdles that must be cleared before the state spends any money on a western bypass.
"The earlier draft was a transportation paper. In its current form, it's an environmental paper," noted Del. Robert T. Andrews (R-McLean).
Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr. called the resolution "a miracle of compromise" and a "bona fide commitment" to build the bypass.
In other transportation-related matters, the House Committee on Roads and Internal Navigation killed one of Beyer's prime bills this session that would have allowed police to stop cars and issue tickets to people who are not wearing seat belts. Currently, police can issue tickets for seat belt infractions only if the car is stopped for another reason. Proponents of the measure still hope to revive it for a full House vote this session.
The committee also killed a bill that would have allowed Arlington County police to use photo radar to catch speeders. Another bill allowing Northern Virginia localities to set a standard speed limit of 35 miles an hour on dirt roads, which have a 55 mph limit elsewhere in the state, was approved by an 11 to 5 vote.
The bypass resolution, which was approved 10 to 9, was opposed by a state highway official, who said it would conflict with and "negate" another regional planning effort on the outer bypass that has already cost about $2.5 million.
In addition, he said, the highway department could get caught in a Catch-22: Studies called for would cost at least $30 million, but the resolution orders the state not to spend any money on planning or designing a western bypass until thorough environmental impact studies have been completed, and "appropriate growth management strategies . . . are adopted at both the state and local level."
Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun), sponsor of the resolution, denied that it would cost $30 million to implement, but noted anyway that the resolution left funding for the regional study up to the governor. The resolution, which has already passed the Senate, will be debated by the full House next week.
In other matters today, Beyer ruled out of order an attempt by supporters of elected school boards to revive the issue on the Senate floor today by tacking it on as an amendment to a House-passed bill relating to the certification of teachers. The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee killed the idea Tuesday on a voice vote. Supporters may make a final attempt to revive it by amending a House bill.
By a 27 to 11 vote, the Senate approved a House-passed bill that would allow localities to create a special tax district to help pay the costs of modernizing storm sewer systems. It could face a veto if Gov. L. Douglas Wilder construes it as a violation of his no-tax-increase pledge.