An election-year revolt is growing among Northern Virginia Republican legislators over what they see as a failure of their party's leader, Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), to come to grips with transportation problems in the Washington area.
Sen. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is circulating a letter among his legislative colleagues in both parties that calls on Gilmore to do more to relieve traffic congestion or face unilateral action by members of his own party to finance highway and rail projects.
Since he faxed copies of the letter to members of the Northern Virginia delegation on Tuesday, Barry said, five of the region's eight senators and 10 of its 25 delegates have indicated they will sign the letter, which he plans to send to Gilmore next week.
"The pronouncement that there is a traffic crisis in Northern Virginia should not be news to you," Barry's letter begins.
"Unfortunately," Barry continues, "the more acute the situation becomes, the less attention it appears to get from the administration and the Commonwealth Transportation Board."
Barry said Gilmore's inaction on traffic congestion "was made evident by the recent shelving of numerous road projects" in the region.
"About eight projects have been pushed back--shelved--with the widening of I-66 bothering me most," Barry said. Other stalled projects he named were the expansion of Route 234 and the purchase of land for a western bypass around Washington.
Last month, Fairfax County supervisors accused state transportation officials of delaying road building in the county, while in Richmond, members of several legislative committees complained about delays affecting one of every five road construction projects statewide. On Tuesday, Democrats running for legislative seats in Northern Virginia called for a large infusion of state money for transportation and said the governor has neglected the state's highways.
Barry's letter asks for an early meeting with Gilmore and state transportation officials "to bring focus to the situation and discuss the measures which will provide short and long term relief to our traffic crisis."
If Gilmore doesn't agree, Barry said, "our only alternative will be to independently explore the measures necessary to properly serve our constituents."
The letter warns that "it is now evident that in the not too distant future, many . . . businesses will be relocating or expanding outside our region" because of the congestion.
Bob Chase, spokesman for the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a business and civic group, said "there is a lot of discussion, particularly at meetings of high-tech companies, about how much longer they can afford to stay here. Clearly, a lot of them are starting to look at North Carolina and other places."
Gilmore's press secretary, Mark A. Miner, said "the governor is open to new ideas and solutions to congestion, not only in Northern Virginia." Miner said that is why Gilmore named a 21-member commission in May to abandon "preconceived notions on what the answers ought to be" and to come up with new thinking about the state's highways, ports and rail systems.
"This area is particularly good at studying issues," said Sen. Jane H. Woods (R-Fairfax), who said she would sign Barry's letter. "It's time for action."
Woods said: "We have people truly growing old on the roads, spending years of their lives on the roads. They are missing their kids growing up."
Some other Republicans, however, will not sign the letter, saying it will play into the hands of Democrats, who are trying to blame Gilmore for traffic congestion that has been decades in the making.
"The tone was not how I would have written it," said Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun). "I support the administration and the delegation working in concert to solve our significant problems."
Del. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) won't sign the letter either, but he said he has spoken to the governor about his concerns. "I think that is the preferable channel," Black said.