Although they call traffic congestion a crisis and pledge fixes, neither of the major-party candidates for governor has proposed detailed plans that explain how Virginians will be able to get moving again.
The main ingredient missing in the speeches, news conferences and advertisements by Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore (R) is how they plan to raise the billions of dollars that state studies, transportation experts and the candidates themselves say are necessary to address an ever-increasing list of transit and highway needs.
"I think Lieutenant Governor Kaine and [former] attorney general Kilgore have both laid out some programmatic and philosophical underpinnings of transportation plans," said Jeff Southard, executive vice president of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance. "How that would translate into actual revenues and projects? I think that's a great question."
Transportation advocates say the candidates have also failed to detail how they plan to settle long-fought disputes that are key to many of their proposals, such as widening Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and persuading localities to plan their growth differently.
The lack of detail has left transportation advocates wondering what will change for commuters after the Nov. 8 election. Asked what would be different under a Kilgore administration, Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said: "I don't know."
And under Kaine? "Well," Chase said, "it's kind of the same thing."
The centerpiece of Kilgore's approach is to farm out decision making, allowing officials in Northern Virginia and other regions to make their own planning and financing choices.
The regional authorities would have the power to hold referendums on tax increases that could fund new projects, though Kilgore has said he opposes tax increases. That course is similar to the one taken by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who backed unsuccessful ballot measures in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads three years ago.
"I trust people in regions more than I trust centralized VDOT to make decisions about important road projects," Kilgore said, referring to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Kilgore pledged to use money from the state's general fund for transportation. The general fund finances schools, public safety, health care and other priorities. Some legislative leaders, particularly in the Senate, oppose widening the competition for general fund resources to include transportation needs.
"We need to be committed to more spending, and I think we go to the revenue source that's growing fastest, and that's the general fund," Kilgore said. Kilgore also said the state could raise $100 million a year by levying stiff fines on aggressive drivers, drunk drivers and habitual offenders.
Kaine's approach includes many of the points that advocates of controlled growth have made in recent years, including better coordinating land-use planning and transportation projects.
"We can't just tax and pave our way out of the problem," Kaine said. "I think we're probably going to have to move to a place where we've got much more communication and VDOT expertise at the table when local government weighs land-use decisions."
Kaine added that the state wouldn't bail out localities if they allow growth in places where it's clear the road and rail systems can't handle it.
Kaine said he would ensure that transportation funds are not used for other purposes. He would designate surplus state revenue and tax revenue from insurance premiums for transportation projects. He said he would explore public-private ventures to build roads and rail lines.
Kaine acknowledged that "it's going to be tough to do all we need with that."
Kaine has pledged to forgo raising additional revenue until the state ensures that transportation money can't go for other uses, an argument many Republicans in the General Assembly have been making for years. If that requires a constitutional amendment, the process would take until nearly the end of Kaine's term as governor, leaving him with little time to make changes because Virginia law prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms.
Kilgore has gone further than Kaine in laying out specific projects he would start, including building another bridge across the Potomac and widening I-66 inside the Beltway. But he adds his name to a long list of politicians who have pledged to widen I-66, and he has not said how he would persuade long-standing opponents of the project to support it.
Kilgore has also said the project would cost $193.6 million, while a state study released this year said it will cost $112 million to $233 million to widen just the westbound side of the highway. State officials said the amount would at least double for a full widening, meaning that Kilgore's estimate is at least $30 million, and as much as $272 million, short.
"We will make up those dollars," Kilgore said, adding that it could be done through a deal with a private developer.
Kaine said he supports adding a westbound lane on I-66 but not an eastbound lane because it would require seizing property.
Transportation experts said the clearest vision comes from state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican from Winchester who is running for governor as an independent. Potts has pledged to call a special legislative session to focus solely on transportation and has said he is willing to consider all funding sources, including raising gas, sales and income taxes as well as tolls.
Some said all they could do was cross their fingers in the hope that the lack of details is a campaign season strategy that will be followed by a post-election revelation that something more substantial needs to be done.
"I think it'll be very difficult for Tim Kaine to say, 'Gee, I can't get a constitutional amendment passed. I've done my duty,' " said Steve Haner, a coordinator for Virginians for Better Transportation, a business- and developer-backed effort to improve the state's road and rail systems. "Likewise, it would be difficult for Jerry Kilgore to say he couldn't pass the regional referendum authority bill and he's done his duty.
"They've created such expectations that they'll have to keep pushing until something of real substance happens."