Close to a dead end in Northern Virginia.

The traffic crisis in Northern Virginia is not something we can fix through the application of money alone. Rather, it is a symptom of a state with minimal land-use planning and a silly "pay as you go" mentality toward infrastructure. The situation can be changed only through radical amendments to the state constitution and through meaningful campaign finance reform.

Virginia puts no limits on campaign contributions to state candidates. Consequently, the campaign coffers of politicians are front-loaded with cash from lobbies and businesses with vested interests in the profitable status quo. Incumbents have an overwhelming financial advantage because their money is often enough to keep even serious challengers from filing for office. Not surprisingly, incumbents thus tend to stay incumbents, and developers' interests get attention, while the needs of commuters get short shrift.

Inadequate land-use planning occurs because our state constitution puts a premium on property rights. The inevitable deforestation and environmental havoc that follow from turning undeveloped property into homes, shopping centers and offices get only lip service from elected officials. This emphasis on property rights may have made sense 200 years ago, but it now serves only to keep us snarled in traffic and facing a decrease in the quality of our lives. These issues cannot be addressed seriously without amending the state constitution, and that realistically won't happen until we have serious campaign finance reform.

Citizens of the commonwealth who are concerned about solving traffic problems must first open their wallets and support candidates who promise to pass legislation leading to meaningful campaign finance reform. We'll have to dig deep to compensate for the seemingly bottomless coffers of developers.

Finally, Virginians need to look at the big picture. A "pay as you go" mentality does keep our taxes low, but we pay the price by wasting so many hours of our precious lives sitting in traffic and stuffing our children into overcrowded classrooms.

We need to manage growth. We need to decide how many people should live in a jurisdiction and what our needs for green space are as a community to sustain a good quality of life. When property is developed, we must improve the surrounding roads before people take up residence. Schools, churches and shopping centers also need to be in place. All of this will involve paying more in taxes up front, but it's a necessary price to pay.

Our elected officials are supposed to be fiduciaries. Sadly, most are far more interested in staying in office and catering to those who fill their campaign coffers than in looking out for the long-term needs of the state and its citizens.

Until this situation changes, any money we spend trying to improve things will, at best, only keep them from getting worse.

I live near the Fairfax County Parkway, and from what I see, this road has encouraged developers and exacerbated rather than ameliorated our transportation problems.

Unfortunately, Gov. Jim Gilmore seems to be far removed from reality. He seems to think we can solve our transportation gridlock without spending more money, although even he is showing signs of coming around to the reality of the situation.

We all need to make sure that the next governor of Virginia is a pragmatist with the courage to push for real reforms.

-- Mark D. Hamill

Red Line trains make no tracks.

Recently, I managed to persuade my reluctant spouse to take the Metro to work and leave her car in the Metro parking lot near our Silver Spring home.

After a 10-minute drive to the parking lot and a five-minute walk to the platform, we boarded the train at the Glenmont station. Nearly 45 minutes later, my wife got off at Judiciary Square, where she walked another 10 minutes to reach the office. Total elapsed time, about 70 minutes.

My spouse has a job that includes a parking space. She regularly drives from home into the garage at her building in 35 minutes. No need for umbrellas, overcoats or galoshes. Admittedly, snow days can be difficult, but, as she observes, Metro often falters on snow days as well. She is, at best, a skeptic about our public transportation system. At worst, she has enough data to show that her choice of transportation is more convenient than Metro and may be cheaper too.

Through my spouse's eyes, I realized that I had become inured to problems on the Red Line -- the creeping pace of the train, the frequent stops because "there were trains ahead." I had been discounting delays on the Red Line between downtown and Silver Spring because of Metro's experiment with running the Green Line from Maryland on to the Red Line without stopping at Fort Totten. I can't remember when this experiment began, but the signs marking it as experimental have been pushed aside in the stations or have disappeared altogether.

During the past year, Metro officials have held court in some train stations to seek feedback from their customers. I stopped three times to give them some. On one occasion, I spoke to the executive director himself. I pointed out the deteriorating service on the Red Line and asked for evidence that the increase in riders on the Green Line outweighed the inconveniences to Red Line passengers.

Notwithstanding my request that any of the three officials I met send me something by mail, I've yet to see any data that would help me believe that my inconvenience -- the extra 30 minutes I have to allow every day for passage from Glenmont/Silver Spring to downtown -- has been worthwhile.

So what did my spouse say when she left the Metro train that morning?

"Amazing, isn't it, that going to work by car is more predictable than taking the Metro?"

And do you think she has become a committed Metro user? Guess.

-- Lawrence W. Rogers