Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore came to one of Northern Virginia's worst traffic spots yesterday to highlight his pledge to widen Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and appeal for the region's votes.
Standing in a parking lot above the highway, Kilgore said widening the road from four to six lanes is "a step we must take for the sake of quality of life in this region" and pledged to get it done because he would "not take no for an answer."
Concern about traffic congestion is one of the leading issues for voters in Northern Virginia, where many, including Kilgore, believe a tight election with Democrat Timothy M. Kaine will be decided.
Political analysts say that Kaine, like all Democratic candidates, must do well in Northern Virginia to win statewide Tuesday.
A Washington Post poll taken last week showed Kaine leading by 53 to 38 percent in Northern Virginia. Kaine had a 47 to 44 percent edge statewide in the poll, which has an overall margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
At the news conference, Kilgore also talked about gang violence and illegal immigration, two other issues of importance to the region's voters.
He pledged to curb violence by passing a law that would make gang leaders who order killings as liable as those who carry them out. He also said he would not allow localities to use taxpayer money to fund work centers for illegal immigrants.
"We should not be using taxpayer dollars for those who are illegally in this country," Kilgore said, referring to a decision by the town of Herndon to fund a work center for day laborers, some of whom might be in the country illegally.
Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada (D), who attended the event, said Kilgore was "playing the politics of division. He doesn't really understand the challenges of local communities."
Kaine has said immigration is the responsibility of the federal government and supports the rights of localities to make their own decisions on such matters as work centers.
At the heart of Kilgore's transportation plan is a promise to create regional authorities that would have the power to plan projects and hold tax referendums to finance them. "I trust the drivers on the roads of this region and not bureaucrats staring at maps in Richmond," he said.
Kilgore also repeated a pledge to tap some money from the part of the state budget reserved for schools, public safety and other services for transportation projects.
Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said: "This is just another instance of Jerry Kilgore making promises that he can't keep. He's made it clear he's going to give Virginians two choices: To vote in referenda he will campaign against to raise taxes or sacrifice school funding for the sake of transportation."
Kaine's approach to transportation is based less on a commitment to specific projects and more on better coordination of land-use decisions with planning for road and rails. He has proposed a measure that would give localities the power to reject development if roads are too congested to support it.
Kaine supports a project underway to add a westbound lane on I-66 inside the Beltway, but he has not committed to an additional eastbound lane, as Kilgore has. Kaine spent yesterday campaigning with Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) in Fredericksburg, Culpeper and Warrenton.
Supporters of a wider I-66 say it clogs for miles in both directions during weekday rushes and throughout weekends, and more lanes would be needed to evacuate the District, if that became necessary.
"You cannot solve the transportation problems of this region if you do not widen I-66," said Wolf, who, like Davis, commutes on the highway.
Opposition to adding lanes is fierce among Arlingtonians who were promised when it was planned that it would remain four lanes through their county. That statute has since been undone, but the county board and residents contend that the spirit of the agreement should be honored. Opponents say more lanes would just add more cars to more backups and create more noise and air pollution in neighborhoods. Others contend that widening the highway would do little to solve traffic problems because a bottleneck would remain where the road enters a tunnel in Rosslyn.
"This is merely political posturing one week before an election," said Arlington County Board member Paul Ferguson (D).
Kilgore has pledged as much as $193 million to widen I-66 and he, Wolf and Davis said there is enough state and federal money to cover costs. But Virginia transportation officials have said the total cost would be somewhere between $224 million to $466 million, depending on the scope of the project.