Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) requested $3.2 billion in federal terrorism relief to beef up emergency systems, improve evacuation routes and stimulate an economy lagging in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The money, if approved by federal officials, would include $130 million for a controversial plan to widen the Roosevelt Bridge and Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway -- billed as necessary to speed emergency evacuation of the District. Another $500 million would be earmarked for other transportation projects, perhaps including the proposed rail link to Dulles International Airport.
Much of the money would come directly to the state treasury, allowing several major projects to move ahead when the state budget is facing a possible budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to analysts. State officials say revenue is down sharply since the attacks, particularly from the previously robust Northern Virginia.
"Prior to the attacks, Virginia's economy was outperforming that of the nation's. Now, consumption has slowed beyond expectations, and employees are worried about additional layoffs," Gilmore said in his letter to President Bush, dated Thursday. Gilmore added, "Our needs are severe and immediate."
Congress has approved $40 billion in federal terrorism relief, giving Bush -- a Gilmore ally who appointed him to head the Republican National Committee -- discretion over how to spend half of it. Federal officials have reported receiving two dozen requests, including $54 billion from New York.
The District has requested $944 million for emergency preparedness and economic recovery, including money for roads and schools. Maryland plans to submit a request for relief later.
State and federal lawmakers praised the aggressive efforts of Gilmore, who has long touted leaner government, to win a substantial share of federal relief. Virginia, home to the damaged Pentagon, was one of three states hit directly by the attacks. The state also suffered losses from the closure of Reagan National Airport, where operations remain restricted.
"It's an open grab bag, so let's grab," said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), whose district includes the airport.
Moran and Northern Virginia's other congressmen, Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R) and Frank R. Wolf (R), sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta requesting that the Dulles rail project get new attention in the aftermath of attacks. Gilmore administration officials are considering sending a similar letter, though Thursday's letter makes no specific reference to that project.
The rail link to Dulles has long been a top priority of the region's lawmakers. It would run from Loudoun County, just west of the airport, to the West Falls Church Metro station. Trains could use existing subway rails to cross into the District.
Lawmakers and transportation experts say that the project, which has less than $300 million of the estimated $3 billion price committed so far, would ease evacuation of the city and smooth traffic in Northern Virginia. It also would improve access to Dulles if National Airport were to close again.
"September 11th shows the urgency of getting that project up and running as fast as you can," said J. Kenneth Klinge, a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and a Gilmore adviser.
The widening of I-66 is a far more divisive issue. Arlington residents and officials have long opposed the project, saying it would further disrupt their neighborhoods and do less to ease traffic than major new investments in public transportation.
State officials say the $130 million they are requesting from the federal government would be enough to fund widening the highway and the Roosevelt Bridge into Washington. Gilmore first proposed widening the highway two years ago, but the project has become more urgent, state Finance Secretary John W. Forbes said.
"If we're talking about emergency evacuation, it does become a priority," he said.
Area lawmakers, meanwhile, prepared for a fight and accused Gilmore of trying to take unfair advantage of the emergency money.
"This is one of those things you see where people try to piggyback other agendas on top of legitimate emergency concerns," said Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington).
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.