AFTER ALMOST two years of loading and unloading between the White House and pork-seekers on Capitol Hill, agreement on a $286.4 billion highway and mass transit bill will deliver millions for some much-needed projects in this region. The money will jump-start some stagnant programs and allow long-term planning for others, but state and local officials hoping for ribbon-cuttings galore can hold their scissors; so much more is needed.
The region's governors and congressional delegations nevertheless fared well. In Maryland, the legislation delivers $18 million for the intercounty connector linking upper Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- a key piece in advancing this essential project. The ICC still faces other hurdles, possibly including a rash of lawsuits. Still, the roadway has been designated a high-priority corridor in the national system, which puts it on a faster track for federal approvals.
Not all Northern Virginians will cheer the $27.6 million included to widen westbound Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway, but this choke point has been crying out for relief, and the plan to add a lane can be carried out without major disruption in the Arlington corridor. The bill also includes $33.6 million to improve another notorious traffic clogger, the I-66/Route 29 interchange in Gainesville, and $12.8 million to widen Interstate 95 between Route 123 and the Fairfax County Parkway.
Metro, the only major transit system in America lacking a dedicated revenue source, has had to scrounge for its annual allotments all its life. As we have noted here, big federal help of a special kind may be on its way, depending on acceptance of a proposal by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). In the meantime, the measure just approved includes important funding to allow Metro to buy 52 rail cars. It also contains language authorizing a rail line to Dulles International Airport and a proposed rail or bus link -- important details yet to come and not without a fight or two -- between Bethesda and Silver Spring, best known by its original Metrorail name of the Purple Line.
With enactment of the federal bill and consideration of the Davis proposal, state and local officials in this region have some fresh incentives to start thinking about projects that have been shelved in the absence of any clear federal commitments. It will mean summoning political courage that has been in scant supply for much too long.