Just hours after Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) won his race last week, he announced his support for adding a westbound lane to Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and extending Metrorail to Dulles Airport.
But to address Virginia's transportation "crisis," as Kaine has termed it, the new governor will face much broader issues than whether to build one project or another.
These major questions confront Kaine: Will he raise more transportation money to design a sustainable network or to build a list of pet projects? To what extent is he willing to let private companies charge tolls to fund, build and operate Virginia's roads? Will his efforts to link transportation projects to development patterns, a cornerstone of his campaign, affect new construction?
Kaine will be charting his course at a time of great change in the way transportation projects are funded and operated, as well as in the way people think about them.
His decisions will also address the question on the mind of all commuters: Will any of it make the drive to work more bearable?
At the least, Kaine appears willing to take on the thorny issues in his first year in office. During his initial news conference, he announced a five-stop town-hall tour to talk about transportation in advance of January's General Assembly session. The first will be in Manassas this week.
The hottest trend in transportation is teaming up with private firms to design, build and operate highways. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has been a champion of this approach, and it has a lot of support in the General Assembly.
Kaine has said he also supports private investment, but the landscape is changing quickly and there will be several new-style proposals that will test how much privatization he is comfortable with.
For example, last month, several private consortiums submitted proposals to assume control of the Dulles Toll Road and its revenue in exchange for paying hundreds of millions in cash, improving the road and widening it with express toll lanes.
If the state inks any of those deals, it would be the first time it would have leased an existing -- and profitable -- highway to a private group.
Similarly, a state-formed panel of transportation experts this month approved a private sector plan to build express toll lanes on Interstate 95 between Spotsylvania County and the 14th Street Bridge.
That plan would also change the purpose of an existing highway because it would add tolls to lanes that are now open to all except during peak periods, when they are limited to carpoolers.
Warner has also partnered with Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to study adding express toll lanes on two sections of the Beltway that cross the Potomac River. Results of the study are expected in the next 18 months, when a decision will have to be made.
All of the private plans call for tolls that vary according to traffic, a real-time, market-based approach that the firms say will allow them to ensure a congestion-free ride. If the projects move forward, drivers would be virtually assured a quick way to get around the region, albeit at considerable cost.
Kaine has said repeatedly that he will not raise more revenue for transportation projects until there are guarantees that the money would not be diverted to other uses.
That stance could complicate efforts to add funds that virtually everyone, including Kaine, agrees are necessary. If Kaine succeeds in clearing that rhetorical and political hurdle, the question of where the money would go remains.
Transportation experts said Kaine should do more than assign whatever money there is to a list of projects that do not constitute an overarching plan.
Kaine should say that "within these corridors here are some fundamental things that require the most immediate attention. This is what these things cost. Here are the strategies we need to employ to move these things ahead," said Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a pro-roads group. "At the end of the day, what the public really wants is for people who are expert in transportation to put together a transportation system that works."
Kaine also made it clear in his campaign that he believes there is a strong link between how Virginia is growing and its transportation problems, a stance that resonated with suburban voters. He proposed a measure that would make it easier for localities to turn down developments based on how they affect traffic.
Slow-growth advocates said they are heartened to have a potential friend in the governor's mansion and are hopeful that his attention to the issue will lead him to plan a transportation network and not just build projects.
"At the core of what we're talking about and at the core of what the new governor is talking about is that we can't build our way out of this transportation problem," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "More investment in transportation for Virginia makes sense, but not without addressing where and how we grow."
Schwartz urged Kaine to forgo state efforts to build roads in the outer suburbs, such as a proposed parkway to link Prince William and Loudoun counties, as well as bypasses around many growing towns and cities.
Regardless of what course Kaine takes regarding transportation, many notable traffic fixes are scheduled to happen during his term.
The first span of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge is on course to open in the spring. The Springfield interchange reconstruction is expected to be finished by late 2007. And the widening of I-66 from Manassas to Gainesville is underway.
The I-66 widening inside the Capital Beltway and extension of Metrorail are in the planning stages. The Virginia Department of Transportation is studying ideas for adding a westbound lane in the existing right of way.
Extending the Metrorail line by 23 miles from West Falls Church to the Dulles area is a $4 billion project. Planners are studying a first stage, extending the line 11 miles through Tysons Corner, which would cost at least $1.8 billion.