Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) said today the sentiment in Northern Virginia for new transportation taxes is part of a "dumb, stultifying, old-time approach to things," but he conceded that higher levies for road construction may one day be needed as "a last resort."
"I don't think we're there" yet, Gilmore said during his monthly radio talk show here, four days before he travels to a Washington radio station to unveil a comprehensive plan to send roughly $1 billion in new transportation funding to Northern Virginia.
Gilmore reserved special scorn for the newly formed coalition called Region, a group of 15,000 businesses in the Washington area that has called for a sales tax increase of 1 percentage point in Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Such a levy, which would have to be approved by voters, would pump about $1 billion into suburban roads and schools over four years.
Region, the governor said, does not have "a very good approach" for raising revenue.
Gilmore made his comments in an hour-long, give-and-take session with callers from across the state, just minutes before a coalition of corporate leaders issued a scorecard on construction projects they said will ease traffic congestion from Hampton Roads to the "Mixing Bowl" interchange in Springfield and beyond.
The Virginia Chamber of Commerce, a potent force in state politics, and the 200-member Commonwealth Transportation Alliance released a $35,000 study designed to judge highway projects based on a scorecard that rates the road work on its congestion relief, safety, cost-effectiveness and five other nonpartisan criteria.
Of the 15 projects ranked as "first tier" by the groups, eight were in Northern Virginia, including the Springfield interchange, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement, completion of the Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield parkways, rapid transit bus service in the Dulles corridor and a western bypass to ease Capital Beltway traffic.
Although designed to take politics out of planning, "this tool provides cover to those who have to make difficult political decisions" about which roads to build and how to pay for them, said Hugh D. Keogh, the chamber president.
Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said the chamber news conference was a powerful counterpoint to Gilmore's radio address.
"There they were, trying to take politics out of transportation, and one hour earlier, we heard the governor's political screed against Virginia Democrats, essentially trashing our ideas and injecting politics into the entire process," Bieber said.
Gilmore has stepped up his attacks against Democratic legislative candidates, most of them in Northern Virginia, who are calling for new bonding authority, earmarked surpluses or other funding devices to pay for new roads.
Gilmore described his criticism of Democratic proposals on transportation as "pretty harsh," but he contended that his political opponents are "trying to mislead the people of Virginia."
"All the slapdash stuff" coming from Democrats will not work, he said.
Mike Carlin, a spokesman for Region, said Gilmore focused on only one facet of the group's 10-point plan for roads and schools in Fairfax and neighboring jurisdictions.
"Region respects the governor," he said. "We are not a pro-tax group, but a pro-business group.
"When you look at our program as a comprehensive approach, we think it's a responsible plan," said Carlin, a Washington Gas Light Co. executive.
Region's other proposals to ease traffic congestion include incentives for development along transit lines, additional road revenue from state bonds, and special taxing districts to pay for construction.
Gilmore has said repeatedly he wants "creative" solutions to traffic tie-ups that go beyond conventional thinking that new roads alone will solve problems.
Otherwise, he said, congestion is "the price you pay if the only direction you go is more building."