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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Potts bill would let regions have say on roads; A1

Kilgore says he's 'flattered' by Senator's proposal

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — A local legislator wants localities along Interstate 81 to have the same ability to deal with local road issues as counties and cities in Northern Virginia.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts, Jr., R-Winchester, introduced legislation this week that would allow three or more cities or counties along Interstate 81 to form a regional transportation authority.

Legislators are currently deadlocked in a special session called to approve a state budget and fix the state’s ailing transit network.

The bill would let local governments go forward with important projects, even if the state didn’t have the money to build them immediately.

“A good example locally would be if Winchester and Frederick County go together on the [Va.] 37 [eastern loop] bypass,” he said.

If either Clarke, Warren or Shenandoah County were to participate, the governments could levy a 1 cent sales tax to pay for the project outright or issue bonds.

With Potts’ bill, Senate Bill 5015, there are now three regional transportation authority bills pending before the Senate. One would create an authority for Hampton Roads, while the other would expand the authority of the existing Northern Virginia authority.

Potts had few if any kind things to say about regional transportation authorities when running for governor last year.

“I believe very deeply and passionately that we have to have a statewide transportation plan,” he said. “A statewide plan … has to take precedence.”

But if the transportation ship leaves the dock without a statewide plan on board, Potts doesn’t want the Northern Shenandoah Valley left out in the cold.

“I want to protect my constituents in the eventuality that these regional packages do ultimately prevail,” he said. “I owe it to the people that I represent, that we just don’t have Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia covered in that eventuality.”

Regional authorities were the hallmark of former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore’s transportation plan, something the 2005 Republican gubernatorial candidate noted with amusement Friday.

“They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Kilgore said. Now a private citizen again, Kilgore said this year’s General Assembly session has, if nothing else, vindicated his policy positions.

“My campaign was about honest reform and putting forth ideas, and a lot of those ideas made it through the General Assembly this time,” he said.

“Here through the entire campaign, that was the most reckless idea coming and going,” he said. Now, regional solutions look like they could break the budget deadlock.

“I think at the end of the day, that’s what they’ll pass,” he said.

Potts and a number of other senators are adamant that regional plans are no substitute for statewide transportation medicine.

“Any regional plans that would get out of the Senate will be predicated on us having a statewide plan,” he said. “This would be above and beyond that.”

“Above and beyond” are the key words in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and I-81 regional authorities. Regardless of what comes out of the statewide plan, it likely won’t be enough to take care of huge projects such as building a third crossing in Hampton Roads.

As late as two weeks ago, Potts was prepared to offer “trigger” amendments to both the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads plans that would keep them from taking effect until a statewide plan was in place.

Regional plans could “Balkanize” Virginia’s highway system, he said, leading to “eight-lane highways running into two-lane highways” and other incongruities.

“I still believe that,” Potts said. “That’s why I say you have to have a statewide plan, and this has to fit into a statewide plan.”

Potts readily admits that he’s not a great fan of the regional idea.

“[The idea] has incredible possibilities for mischief,” Potts said, but his plan has safeguards built in to prevent wild differences emerging from county to county.

Regional planners couldn’t go off on their own wild tangents, he said. Projects would have to fall “within the parameters of VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board.”

“That’s what mine was,” said a chuckling Kilgore. All three regional authority plans are just that, he said — local self-help, no matter what senators may say.

“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck,” he said, “it is a duck.”
R Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com