AFTER ALL the fuss and shouting about a grand statewide transportation funding plan, here is what the legislative powers in Richmond have decided to pay for each year to relieve the beleaguered commuters of Northern Virginia: half of one highway interchange, or the equivalent thereof.
As for any further improvements to Northern Virginia's jammed roadways, the legislature has said the region is welcome to tax itself.
Northern Virginians will be excused for not erupting in cheers. For despite all the Republican propaganda about a $1.5 billion plan, the reality is that Richmond is letting the state's most populous, prosperous and economically dynamic region fend for itself.
Fact: Under the package approved last week by the General Assembly, the state would send Northern Virginia just $54 million in new road construction money a year. Fact: A new highway interchange, such as the one planned for Interstate 66 and Route 29 in Gainesville, costs about $110 million. Also: The state money would run out in about eight years.
Because of the state's trifling contribution, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) would be within his rights to veto the bill, and he has threatened to do as much, if not quite in those words. In fact, it will be a tough call for the governor, because the bill also allows Northern Virginia to do for itself what Richmond has failed to do: raise real money. If the region's jurisdictions take up the state's invitation to do so, Northern Virginia would raise an additional $400 million annually in new transportation revenue.
So now Mr. Kaine is face to face with a bill whose overall funding scheme is not adequate, sustained or fair. Reasonably, he has said he will send it back to the General Assembly with significant amendments, changes that presumably will include a more robust state funding component so that the burden of improving Northern Virginia's transportation network does not fall so overwhelmingly on the region itself.
We hope Mr. Kaine prevails over Republican stubbornness in the House of Delegates. So, apparently, do some of the Republican senators who voted for the bill while making the point that it was a miserable piece of legislation in need of serious improvements. ("It's so bad, it's so perverted that we probably ought to vote to get it out of here in hopes that somebody can fix it later," said Sen. John C. Watkins, a Republican from the Richmond suburbs.) But Mr. Kaine is also doubtless aware that in the absence of a perfect bill, or even a good one, he may ultimately have to accept this one, and live to fight another day.