Leaders on both sides of Tuesday's failed effort to pass a transportation tax in Northern Virginia are turning their attention to solutions that are smaller, less costly and more familiar than the expansive construction program envisioned by the framers of the sales tax referendum.
The initial proposals include wresting more money from Richmond, imposing greater controls on development, raising other state taxes, relying more on local governments and making better use of existing roads and trains.
Most have failed before, foundering on a lack of money and the inability of the state's political leaders to win a consensus in either Northern Virginia or the General Assembly in Richmond.
Now, the proposals face the likelihood of intense political opposition, questions about their effectiveness and a state budget that must be trimmed by $1 billion. While it seems everyone in Virginia has a notion of what to try, there's not a single idea that everyone says is the right Plan B.
The political environment will become even more turbulent. In less than a year, all 140 members of the state legislature and nearly every county supervisor will be up for reelection. Some who supported the regional transportation plan this year are wondering if they will face challengers emboldened by the measure's defeat.
Finding new solutions will be a long, arduous process, said Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who plunged into the fight for a transportation tax last spring after years of work by lawmakers, local officials and business groups to bring the idea to the voters.
"Some of these other choices are going to have to be vetted by the same kind of public debate," he said. "They are going to need to pick up support at the local level and from the legislators."
Warner's attempt to pass a sales tax increase in Northern Virginia was an ambitious plan that would have raised $5 billion for transportation. Now, most politicians and many other leaders are thinking smaller, though some slow-growth groups say they envision substantial changes in development rules, and business executives are promoting an overhaul of Virginia's tax structure.
Those business leaders say that by revamping the tax structure, the state could find more money for Northern Virginia without taking it from other parts of Virginia.
"If there's a silver lining here," said Michael Carlin, former chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, speaking of the tax measure's defeat, "it's that it really provides a mandate to radically restructure government services."
Several lawmakers and other political observers said because of the state's financial difficulties, the General Assembly is unlikely to tackle that problem soon. A legislative study looking into a tax system overhaul was put on hold. And even if taxes were overhauled, it's not clear that it would result in more transportation money.
"For the people who want additional revenue, the [election] results are even more troubling," said Robert D. Holsworth, director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Slow-growth activists say the answer is not new money for roads but a new vision for development and new powers for local governments to stop sprawl and direct growth inward toward the region's core. They say they plan to seek state legislation to curb development, and they will keep pressure on local governments to shift office and home building to urban areas, preserve open space, cancel road projects and spend more on transit.
"These sorts of changes will reduce the amount everyone has to drive, increase the use of transit and [are] the only way to address the problem," said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Those groups say traffic could be eased by making better use of existing roads and transit. They suggest offering tax credits to those who ride trains and buses, encouraging workers to telecommute and developing better ways to respond to traffic accidents.
Retiming traffic lights could shave 10 percent from commute times across the region -- a fast, cheap way to bust gridlock, traffic planners say. Timed signals reduce gas consumption and air pollution, studies show. Some of the region's 4,500 traffic lights have not been retimed in more than a decade.
"The region needs to ramp up its efforts to make the best use of our existing resources," said David F. Snyder, who represents Falls Church on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Alan E. Pisarski, a nationally known expert in commuting behavior, says that retiming lights, teleworking and improved management of roads can make travel marginally faster at best.
Teleworking "can take a few percentage points off the top," but it isn't likely to attract enough people to make a real difference.
Transportation officials in the region note that moving more people from their cars to mass transit will be difficult, because Metro and Virginia Railway Express trains are nearing capacity.
"Yes, getting people out of cars and onto transit will relieve roadway congestion," said Fairfax County Transportation Director Young Ho Chang. "But it's a balloon. It's squeezing a balloon."
And planners said it would take a long time for growth controls to take effect. A lot of people already are living in the region, and tens of thousands of homes and offices are approved but not yet built, they said.
"You can put all the land use controls in that you want, and it's only going to affect new development, and we still have gridlock," said Mortimer L. Downey III, deputy U.S. transportation secretary under President Bill Clinton and a Vienna resident. "If nothing else got built, we'd still be in gridlock."
In any event, road building will not stop. Virginia Department of Transportation officials say they will try to make do with the resources the state already has, widening roads and building interchanges at a slower pace.
Some state legislators are talking about changing the formulas by which road money gets distributed and about adjusting the state's six-year transportation plan, which guides VDOT's spending on roads and transit.
State Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) said he will seek a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the state to shift funds from transportation to other uses.
"The people sent us a very clear message," Lingamfelter said. "They said 'you guys get back there. You spent too much. You have to deal with it.' We are overdue for an adult discussion in this area."
But others note that Northern Virginia already receives about 40 percent of the state's transportation money, and it gets an even bigger share when federal funds for improvements to the Springfield Interchange and construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge are included.
Attempts to get even more money for Northern Virginia, or to shift the construction schedule at the expense of rural areas, will run into legislative opposition, they said.
"Then you are going to get into a serious battle and open up a serious divide between urban and rural, city and county," said James D. Campbell, executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties.
Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a pro-road group, is equally doubtful. "We have a very small transportation pie in Virginia. Any way you slice a small pie, you come up with a small piece."
In the wake of Tuesday's election, some elected officials have begun talking about relying more on their own resources to build roads. In Prince William, voters approved an $86.7 million road bond that the county plans to use to improve a bypass around Manassas.
Others have said the state should consider raising the statewide gas tax, which could generate money for transportation across Virginia.
And some transportation planners in Virginia say VDOT could raise money and increase capacity on roads by adding tolls. Existing car pool lanes could be converted to High Occupancy Toll lanes, where single drivers pay to use them during rush hour.
All of those ideas have problems, critics said. Local officials say building roads with local funds would pit transportation against such other local needs as school spending. So-called HOT lanes raise concerns about treating rich and poor drivers differently. And observers of state politics note that anti-tax lawmakers are likely to see Tuesday's results as a mandate to hold the line on all taxes.
Among the biggest concerns for all of the potential solutions is the state's budget crisis. When Virginia's General Assembly convenes in January, lawmakers will need to slash about $1 billion to balance the budget.
The process is almost certain to lead to major reductions in state services and more layoffs of government workers, lawmakers said. And it will leave little or nothing to supplement Northern Virginia's share of transportation funds.
"We've taken $4.5 billion out of the current budget cycle, and we have another billion to take," Warner said. "One of the reasons why you saw such virtually unanimous support from legislators in both parties [for the transportation tax] was that if there was other money around, they would have gone after it."
Said David Guernsey, the owner of a Fairfax office supply company and the chairman of a regional business organization: "The resources just aren't there. A bigger percentage of nothing works out to be not much."