Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) will hold his first town hall meeting in Northern Virginia tomorrow to discuss improving the state's transportation system, and the region's representatives say they plan to tell him he needs to provide the leadership for immediate changes.
Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said Northern Virginia's message is pretty simple: "Traffic stinks, and we want them to deal with it a meaningful way."
"What we need are leaders who will turn campaign promises into construction projects," continued Connaughton, who said he plans to deliver this message at the town hall meeting. "Every member of the General Assembly and every candidate for statewide office promised to do something about the issue of transportation, and it really has not ever translated into anything."
Unlike Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who pledged during his 2002 campaign to build the intercounty connector, Kaine did not commit himself to a major new transportation project in the Washington suburbs.
Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said he thinks "it's fine to get out and solicit people's opinions . . . but what we're looking for is a governor who treats it like the serious and urgent priority it is. At the end of the day, we need him to put together an action program that starts immediately to solve the problem."
The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow in Manassas Regional Airport's main terminal, 10400 Terminal Rd. It is open to the public.
It will be Kaine's fourth town hall meeting on transportation, part of a statewide tour to build consensus about what he has called the state's most pressing problem. At previous stops in Roanoke, Newport News and the Richmond suburb of Henrico County, Kaine spoke for about 30 minutes, allowed local officials to speak and then called on audience members.
"The point is for the governor-elect to, first of all, have an opportunity to talk directly with commuters and business men and women about his vision for tackling the state's transportation challenges," Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said.
Skinner said Kaine's vision includes "locking up the transportation trust fund" and "better coordinating land use and transportation," goals he listed during his campaign.
The meetings fulfill a campaign promise Kaine made during the gubernatorial race, which ended when Kaine beat Republican Jerry W. Kilgore on Nov. 8. At his first meeting in Roanoke, Kaine said transportation would be the "major theme of the 2006 legislative session."
More town hall meetings, including at least one in Northern Virginia, are planned in coming weeks, Skinner said.
When it comes to traffic, Northern Virginians nearly unanimously agree that it is horrendous. But when it comes to doing something about it, they are as far apart as two Beltway exits at rush hour.
Business groups, developers and many residents view the solution as a simple equation of too many needs and not enough money. They favor formulas that raise more revenue to provide immediate fixes.
"It's always money," said William D. Lecos, president and chief executive of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "When push comes to shove, there just aren't enough revenues to support the transportation investments Northern Virginia needs."
Another coalition that includes smart-growth advocates and some anti-tax Republicans says the state would have plenty of money if it would use it more wisely. The core of their criticism is the belief that transportation projects need to be better coordinated with new developments that create the need for more roads and transit.
Some fear that the meeting and ensuing debate will again break down along those long-standing divisions.
"My hope would be that we don't simply describe the problems again and don't simply have special-interest-driven solutions," said David F. Snyder, chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Snyder said he hopes to "put on the table -- at this hearing and before the legislature -- actual solutions. The public expects that. The public is fed up with more descriptions of the problem."
Chase said Kaine will confront one other obstacle in his attempt to talk directly to commuters.
"The average person won't be at any of these meetings," he said. "The average person will be sitting in traffic."