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Washington Business Journal - Creigh Deeds, Bob McDonnell Tackle Transportation

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Virginia's commuters know the overriding issue all too well -- it's what traps them on logjammed roads for more than an hour on average each working day. The transportation debate has been the capstone of this election, where McDonnell has challenged Deeds' plan for being too undefined and Deeds has written off McDonnell's vision as being too unrealistic.

But for many area transportation advocates, neither is saying what they want to hear.

"We're not pleased with either candidate's position," said Richard McDonough, a Chantilly assistant district manager for Lane Construction Corp. and past president of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, a 330-member trade group of road builders, engineering firms and building suppliers that isn't endorsing either candidate so far.

"Neither candidate is addressing sustainable, long-term funding for transportation," McDonough said. "The gas tax is the immediate answer. It's the easiest one to get some funding into our system, which is falling apart around us."

Creigh Deeds:

Deeds' critics have wielded this issue as their most bruising weapon.

They decry the lack of specificity in the candidate's plans to pay for a starved maintenance budget and a half dozen construction priorities, including high-speed rail and expanded rapid bus networks, which he says will help shrink the rush-hour chain of cars by one-fifth by his term's end. Deeds' campaign is careful not to pin him down too much on funding, saying the candidate will "work with both sides of the aisle from all parts of Virginia" to come up with a $1 billion transportation remedy that is long term and creative.

That means business tax credits, $1,200 for a telecommuting employee and $500 for a flextime schedule. For Deeds, who qualified a recent no-new-taxes pledge as referring only to the state's general fund, transportation's elixir could hold a hint of gas taxes, words Deeds finally used in a recent editorial about his transportation plan in The Washington Post.

"I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution," Deeds wrote. "As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I'll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation -- even if it includes new taxes."

The general fund, he has said, should be reserved for the state's other fiscal responsibilities such as education and mental health

While some transportation leaders are breathing a sigh of relief that he hasn't ruled out the gas tax increase as his rival has, others still aren't sated by Deeds' assurances.

"It doesn't pin him down on what his policies are," said Richard McDonough of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance. "I want somebody to get up there and address the needs of this state and be factual and honest and passionate and tell the voters what the situation is: The highway system in the state of Virginia is deplorable, and we do not have the funding to fix it."

Bob McDonnell:

McDonnell's plan has specifics, but his critics question whether he could turn them into law despite General Assembly opponents and federal red tape.

His priorities include high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, Interstate 66 improvements, better traffic signal timing, high-speed rail and expanded rapid bus service. He intends to pay for them with measures like new and un-issued bonds, state border toll collections, more reliance on public-private partnerships, using 1 percent of new annual revenue growth when it exceeds 3 percent, selling all state-owned liquor stores and taking a cut of revenue from oil and natural gas drilling off Virginia's coast. And the general fund should be a ready source of funds for transportation, he said.

One thing not on that list: a gas tax increase. McDonnell shut that door with statements that he won't sign a bill with a tax hike, criticizing Deeds for offering to do so.

But some transportation advocates cast doubt on those measures, saying there is insufficient money to underwrite existing bonds, let alone new ones and contend that the liquor store sell-off would merely be a one-time $500 million infusion while highway maintenance budgets are bleeding upward of $400 million annually. Offshore drilling requires federal approval and probably more than a single governor's term before any money would start flowing.

"A governor alone doesn't decide those things," said Jim Dinegar, CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. "Until you get through the partisan logjam in Richmond, what's the outcome on that? ... I'm still not encouraged by the realistic outlook."

But the fact that McDonnell has those bullet points is encouraging to some.

"Bob gets credit for having a transportation plan. Most in this community think it's not perfect, but at least it's a start," said Stuart Mendelsohn, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce chairman and a trustee of its political action committee, which endorsed McDonnell.

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