MAYBE, JUST maybe, regional leaders are starting to grapple with the hard truth of transportation here: that money must be raised and committed to highways and mass transit. A high-level group of political and business leaders is creating a committee to find revenue sources for Metro, with instructions to recommend some type of dedicated tax by December. In Richmond, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and Republican state lawmakers are developing separate proposals to generate billions of dollars over the coming years for road and transit construction. As reported by The Post's Michael D. Shear, a Northern Virginia GOP proposal to be aired tomorrow relies on an improving economy to boost state revenue by $500 million to $700 million over the next two years and on borrowing against money generated by taxes on insurance premiums. Dedicating additional revenue from growth makes sense, but borrowing large amounts for transportation against insurance-premium revenue would be shifting money, not raising new funds. An increase in the gasoline tax would be a more logical proposition.
Meanwhile, and to no one's surprise, the annual national study by the Texas Transportation Institute again finds that the people of this region are spending more time stuck in traffic -- nearly three full days a year for the average commuter navigating the nation's third-worst traffic congestion. Those using transit are suffering too, as age takes its toll on the system. More people rode the rails in the past year than in any year since the subway opened in 1976, which is good but adds to the strains. Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White has been warning for years that without new funding the system is poised to tumble into a "death spiral" of deterioration. Regional and state officials must summon the political will to end their hand-wringing and come to the rescue.