The three candidates seeking to become governor of Virginia have offered three different approaches to easing traffic congestion that reflect their different views on the role of state government.
Republican Jerry W. Kilgore wants to give regions the power to determine priorities and come up with solutions. He would take decision-making out of Richmond and create regional bodies that would have the same authority as the state to issue bonds, enter into public-private partnerships and hold referendums to raise taxes.
Kilgore also would impose hefty fees on habitual traffic offenders that he said would add as much as $100 million per year for new projects.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic candidate, offered a plan last week that maintains ultimate authority in Richmond but would increase local involvement in planning for roads, transit lines, homes, office buildings and other developments.
Kaine said his first task after the Nov. 8 election would be to hold summits across the state to build momentum behind his vision, which also includes offering tax credits to employers who encourage transit use and better linkage between bus, bike, rail and other forms of travel.
Kaine also has vowed to reject any increase in levies until at least 2009, when a constitutional amendment to ensure that transportation funds are not used for other priorities could become law. Kaine backs using money from taxes on automobile insurance premiums, about $160 million a year that has been used for other priorities, to pay for transportation projects.
Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., the Republican from Winchester who is running for governor as an independent, has not ruled out anything. He said he would convene a commission to come up with solutions, potentially including tax increases, and hold a special session of the legislature to institute them.
While the candidates disagree on the nature of the problems and their solutions, they agree that transportation is the most critical issue facing the commonwealth.
"We've got to acknowledge that 2006 has to be the transportation year for the governor and state legislature," Kaine said Thursday, echoing similar comments from his opponents.
Transportation problems afflict nearly all regions of the state.
In Northern Virginia, where the problems are most acute, commuters battle daily traffic jams and the stress that comes with them. Business leaders say poor road and rail networks are a threat to the region's golden economy.
Drivers in Hampton Roads endure traffic similar to what Northern Virginians faced about a decade ago. Congestion is particularly severe at bridges and tunnels.
Virginians who live along the Interstate 81 corridor, which stretches through the Shenandoah Valley to Tennessee, are looking for changes to make that crowded highway safer. Southwest Virginians also are eager for new paths through the mountains, which they say would bolster their lagging economy.
John Driver, 69, a retired civil service engineer from Winchester, said he wants more lanes on Route 7, the perpetually jammed road he drives every week to visit his grandchildren in Leesburg. And he's willing to pay for them.
"Sure, increase taxes," he said. "Sorry. That's the only way you can do it."
Driver was one of several shoppers at the Leesburg Corner outlet malls who sounded off about their ideas for transportation improvements Friday as they prepared to join the lines of traffic backing up at the problematic intersection of Route 7 and Route 15.
Larry Snyder, 62, said that he's "always voted for transportation reasons" and that his main concern this year is better bus service from his Falls Church home to his job in Reston. He said there's no need to raise taxes to do it.
"I think they already have the funding," Snyder said. "They should use it more wisely."
Kim Crenshaw said the solution in Northern Virginia is more and wider roads -- congestion is so bad she has a hard time even getting out of her Ashburn subdivision -- but she also said that roads can't be built without considering what's going up around them.
"Loudoun County is growing way too fast," said the 40-year-old sales manager for Toyota Financial Services. "Unless they coincide the widening of roads with the number of people moving out here, it's just going to be a cluster."
One area of agreement among the candidates is that private companies should be encouraged to build more roads.
Karen Mouser, 45, a Jazzercise instructor from Lovettsville, agreed. "The privately owned roads are being managed and handled better than the public roads," she said.
The candidates bring different perspectives to residents' concerns.
Kilgore would limit the role of state government so that a region such as Northern Virginia can tackle issues about which other parts of the state are ambivalent.
Kaine's approach of uniting land-use decisions with transportation planning is an appeal to those who think growth proceeds without a thought to how people are going to get around.
Potts's plan is an appeal to those who think that the problems are dire and that something dramatic needs to be done right away.
David F. Snyder, chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, said that Kilgore and Kaine offer a lot but that neither fully addresses Northern Virginia's needs.
"I would marry the two," Snyder said. "The Kilgore program strikes me as the one more likely to deliver the necessary resources to solve the problem. On the other hand, the Kaine program lists many of the specifics that solve the problem."