A short distance from one of the miles-long traffic jams that define life in suburban Washington, a standing-room-only crowd of commuters, elected officials, anti-tax crusaders, slow-growth activists and transportation advocates last night offered Virginia Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) their solutions to what he called "the most urgent issue" of his term.
The town hall-style meeting, in a Manassas airport hangar, was Kaine's fourth during a statewide tour to rally support for efforts to improve Virginia's road and rail networks in advance of the 2006 General Assembly session.
Kaine plans another round of public meetings, including two in Northern Virginia on Saturday. One is scheduled for Walker Grant Middle School in Fredericksburg at noon, and the other will be held at the Leesburg airport at 3:45 p.m.
Ideas to improve the transportation system flowed freely from last night's crowd of about 400 people.
William Nelson, a single father who stood with a baby in his arms, said that Metro's Orange Line should be extended to Gainesville, that developers should pay more to solve traffic problems and that Virginia should build double-decker highways like those in Japan.
"If we cannot widen, why not build up?" the Manassas resident asked.
Michael Mohler, president of Virginia Professional Fire Fighters, told Kaine that response times to emergencies are increasing because of an inadequate transportation network. "We've never, ever kept pace as far as funding goes," Mohler said. "I don't see how we get to a solution without a dedicated source of revenue, which may require a tax increase."
Many lawmakers who will be crucial to whatever plans Kaine puts forth attended last night's meeting. Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) told the future governor that "we all want to work with you. The election's over."
Kaine did not offer specific proposals during the get-together, which lasted more than an hour. Instead, he told the crowd that transportation is the most pressing problem facing the state and that he is committed to solving it.
He repeated a campaign promise to ensure that state revenue designed for transportation improvements will be used only for that purpose and to have "better land use and transportation planning," a line that drew applause.
Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, told Kaine and the crowd that "linking land use and transportation is such a critical need for us."
Kaine also emphasized that solutions would include more than just laying asphalt.
"Choices involve more roads, but they also involve mass transit," he said. Kaine also emphasized that Northern Virginia's traffic problems are a statewide issue because of the region's economic importance.
"The need for transportation solutions in Northern Virginia aren't just about Northern Virginia," he said. "Everyone in this state has a stake in trying to come up with solutions here."
During his campaign, Kaine said he would use excess state revenue and taxes on insurance premiums for transportation projects and also would contract with companies to build roads and rails.
And the morning after he was elected, Kaine said widening Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and extending rail to Dulles International Airport were two of his primary goals.
Kaine received strong support from Northern Virginians in the Nov. 8 election, and last night, expectations for his term were high.
Many in the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation when he took the microphone, said that transportation was the reason for their support and that they expect Kaine to reward them with tangible improvements.
Susan Turner of McLean said many members of her citizens group voted for a Democrat for the first time in years because of Kaine's idea to give localities more power to turn away developments that would overwhelm road and rail networks. "You endorsed adequate public facilities ordinances," she told Kaine. "You get it."
During his tour, Kaine has been greeted by large, passionate crowds from Roanoke to the Richmond suburbs to Newport News. Despite near-universal agreement that traffic is a severe problem and that solutions need to be ambitious, no unified approach has emerged.
Some residents said last night that they favor higher taxes to pay for improvements, and others prefer toll roads. Some said that privatization is the answer to building projects, and others said corporate proposals would create more problems.
Last night's session also provided the latest forum for the debate between developers who say new roads are vital to the state's continued economic expansion and slow-growth activists who say that more roads will lead to more sprawl and thus create the need for even more roads.
Greg Fuhs of Springfield said he would like to see "more emphasis on getting cars off the road than building new capacity. Seems to me the more roadways we have, the more traffic we have."