In Virginia we are tackling the transportation issue in ways never thought of before. We are breaking the old, formula-driven methods of allocating transportation dollars.

Gov. Jim Gilmore's Commission on Transportation Policy is creating innovative solutions to Virginia's transportation problems. And the governor has developed a plan to provide some immediate relief to the transportation challenges we face now.

First, Gilmore proposes advancing $590 million in federal reimbursement to Virginia to accelerate 90 road construction projects statewide. He has also advocated immediately updating and simplifying the state's fuel-tax collection system to provide nearly $230 million in new money for transportation projects over the next six years.

Gilmore plans to create a new priority transportation fund to pay for critical, statewide transportation projects. He has proposed putting more than $1.5 billion into this fund over the next six years, using general fund dollars and securitization of the uncommitted 40 percent of Virginia's tobacco settlement money. By committing general fund dollars to transportation, Gilmore's FY 2000-2002 budget marks transportation as a top priority for the first time in Virginia history.

In total, the governor's plan will mean more than $2.5 billion in new money for transportation over the next six years, without raising taxes.

Residents in Northern Virginia confront serious transportation problems every day, facing the longest daily commutes and the most severe congestion in Virginia. They spend too much time stuck in traffic and away from their families.

We cannot correct the bad decisions of the past 30 years immediately. Roads cannot magically appear. We cannot build another bridge across the Potomac to take traffic off the Beltway until Maryland agrees on a location. But we are doing some things quickly. We are working on a plan to reduce commuting time over the next six years, considering every idea--highways, transit, land use and telework. We are advancing construction on 10 major projects in Northern Virginia and beginning work on another group of projects, including two commuter parking lots along I-95.

Business leaders and Northern Virginia legislators have stressed that bus and rail service improvements can help most quickly. The Commonwealth Transportation Board has put the Dulles Rapid Bus Transit project and the extension of rail to Tysons Corner and then Dulles on a fast track. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation's request to proceed to the next phase of the project is pending with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Most recently, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has agreed to apply for federal funds on behalf of the Commonwealth, after the FTA's evaluation of the project is released, expected in early February. The Virginia Department of Transportation has already received proposals from private companies to build these projects using private, state, local and federal money.

Additionally, we are negotiating with the railroads to increase the number of trains and extend the VRE service to Fauquier County. We have the third-fastest growing commuter rail system in America, and this will help take pressure off both I-95 and I-66.

Our world is changing, and Northern Virginia, as the world leader in Internet technology, is leading that change. Virginia aims to lead the nation in telecommuting and intelligent transportation system technology. In addition, Gilmore has budgeted a $10 million tax credit for businesses that employ teleworkers. This takes commuters off the roads quickly.

Virginia's approach to transportation is innovative and forward-looking. Our plan maintains the state's financial integrity, and it takes innovative and immediate action to relieve some of our most pressing challenges.

--Shirley Ybarra

is Virginia's secretary of transportation.