Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) along with Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton are to be commended for their efforts to establish a regional transportation authority [Metro, Aug. 4]. Across the nation, such authorities have provided regions of multiple jurisdictions with coordinated planning, efficient funding and professional administration. But one of the principal obstacles to a regional authority is Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, whose lack of vision on transportation issues is guaranteeing gridlock.
Voters in Northern Virginia should consider just what they want in a governor: responsible, progressive programs that address transportation problems or a few minute reductions in taxes?
Gilmore blames his own state Department of Transportation for the gridlock in Northern Virginia. Part of his fix was to call for an audit of the department. He then fired his highly respected transportation commissioner, David Gehr, and replaced him on an interim basis with a political operative who brings little expertise on transportation or administration to the position -- this at a time when Northern Virginia's problems are approaching crisis proportions.
Gilmore then announced his transportation "plan," which is little more than a patchwork. For example, one of the worst bottlenecks on the East Coast -- I-95 -- was not even put on the table, and local projects, such as expanding the Horner Road commuter lot (a major need for Dale City), were not addressed. Also many of the elements of the governor's plan depend on a favorable reception by local communities, which is unlikely in such areas as the neighborhoods along I-66 inside the Beltway.
In all the media blitz that accompanied the governor's announcement, it was disappointing that Northern Virginia's timorous Republican delegation to the state General Assembly played cheerleader to Gilmore rather than providing the independent representation on this critical issue that more and more voters are demanding.
To make matters worse, Gilmore recently signed the petition of Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, promising that he will not raise taxes. That pledge is something for Northern Virginians to ponder as they sit in traffic, trying to get back and forth to work.
The genesis of the transportation problem was in the mid-'90s, when then-governor George Allen downsized the Virginia transportation department by some 1,200 employees. This freed money to build two maxi-prisons downstate at a cost of $400 million -- an amount that could have funded major improvements in transportation throughout the state. Today Virginia is renting empty space in those prisons to other jurisdictions.
Further, the state ended up hiring back many of the transportation department employees as higher-priced consultants. And now Gilmore, rather than rectifying the errors of his predecessor, wants to keep cutting taxes.
Virginia cannot continue to pay its bills and provide for the future while cutting revenue sources every year. It must invest more of its surpluses in transportation. Last year the economy of Northern Virginia created 42,000 new jobs. Growth of this magnitude requires infrastructure improvements. Multiply the growth in jobs throughout the Washington area in recent years and factor in projections for additional growth, and we are courting disaster in our ability to move people.
Former Virginia governor Gerald Baliles noted in a recent study that the inadequacy of Northern Virginia's transportation system is the single greatest threat to its residents' quality of life and prosperity and to the state's own sources of revenue. He pointed out that this area is first in the nation in car pooling and second in mass transit, and yet it has the second-worst traffic congestion in the nation.
Although it is admirable that Gilmore has begun to recognize that there is a problem, he does not seem to understand its scope or how to address it. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that we need a regional transportation authority such as the one proposed by Robb, Moran and Norton to work on remedies to serve all residents of the area. And perhaps voters in Northern Virginia also will consider just who should be in the governor's office and in the General Assembly to make the decisions that will affect commuters' ability to get to work every day.
-- Kevin M. Raymond
is a member of the Dale City Civic Association.