Eager to galvanize support for transportation projects in Northern Virginia, two officials touted the unified regional approach Monday that they credit with nabbing funds for road improvements.
Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax) and Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D) focused on gains made by the Northern Virginia delegation in the last legislative session, bringing home $104 million in bonds for highway improvements. Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) reluctantly signed the bill in March.
The Northern Virginia delegation had a fairly successful run this year in winning money to relieve trouble spots on secondary roads, even if congestion remains a major concern on primary thoroughfares throughout the region. Puller, who is running for the state Senate, and Seefeldt, who is running for reelection, said recent efforts should form a blueprint for the future.
"What we really need is to stop doing a piecemeal approach," Puller said. "We need to have a long range comprehensive plan, so that every year we don't need to regroup and go down to the General Assembly and [re]make transportation policy."
Bond-funded improvements will include widening Routes 123 and 7, Lee Highway and Telegraph Road and repairing Routes 15 and 1.
Seefeldt and Puller stressed their own most valued achievement: $27 million in funds to expand a portion of two-lane Route 123 from Lee Chapel Road south to the Occoquan River bridge in Prince William.
Route 123 from Burke Lake Road to Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax County is funded, and construction on the first segment is slated to begin in summer 2001.
Gilmore MIA From Garbage Bill
Five governors signed a letter this month urging Congress to pass a bill giving states new powers to regulate the trade in interstate garbage. Missing from the list was Gilmore, who has made garbage restrictions a top priority of his administration but has been slow to lobby Congress on the issue.
The list of signers includes the chief executives of several of the nation's biggest garbage importers, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R), New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R), Michigan Gov. John Engler (R), Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) and Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon (D).
Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley Jr. said he had not heard of the letter but held out the possibility that Gilmore might want to sign it at some point. "I think our governor would be very interested in examining it," Woodley said.
Gilmore led the fight to impose new restrictions on landfill dumping and garbage barges in the legislative session earlier this year.
But a federal judge blocked enforcement of those measures and said they are likely unconstitutional. Many political and legal experts think only congressional action can help states such as Virginia, the nation's second-largest garbage importer, slow the flow.
The Democrats, who have sharply criticized Gilmore for not taking the garbage fight to Congress, renewed their call for the governor to recruit U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.), a political ally and the chairman of the crucial Commerce Committee, to the fight.
"I think all along [Gilmore's] so-called garbage crusade has been a charade to maximize his public relations exposure when minimizing the chance anything will be done to staunch the flow of out-of-state garbage," said Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the Virginia Democrats.
Heritage Trails Program Gets Grant
The first step toward creating an African American Heritage Trails program in Virginia was taken this month, with a $150,000 grant from the General Assembly to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy to get the campaign underway.
The foundation is teaming with the Virginia Tourism Corp. Initially, funds will be used to create a database of African American groups, sites and events in Virginia. The list will be used later to develop brochures and guidebooks as well as the trails program.
Among the sites to be included on the trail are the Gum Springs Historical Society Museum in Fairfax County and the Wilderness National Military Park outside Fredericksburg. To nominate other sites, write to: African American Heritage Database/VFH, 145 Ednam Dr., Charlottesville, Va. 22903-4629.
Additional information on the trails program is available on the foundation's Web site, www.virginia.edu/vfh
Staff writer Marylou Tousignant contributed to this report.