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Fairfax Times - We Can't Afford More Empty Talk About Transportation

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In order for our state and nation to remain competitive in the 21st-century global economy, we will need world-class infrastructure.

A robust network of road, rail and public transit options is critical to moving goods, attracting new businesses and investments, and ensuring a high quality of life for our residents.

Virtually every elected and appointed official in Virginia has expressed a similar sentiment, but the question is whether they actually follow through. Are they a talker or a doer? Have they worked across party lines to build consensus and achieve results?

These are especially important questions for Northern Virginians to consider in the upcoming U.S. Senate election, likely between former governors Tim Kaine and George Allen. So what have they each said, and what have they each done to reduce congestion and improve commuting in our region?

During his term as governor, from 1994 to 1998, Allen promised to deliver on several key projects in our region, including the Fairfax Parkway and some form of rail service to Dulles Airport. But despite a long list of promises, Allen's gubernatorial term was woefully short on results.

Allen made some limited progress on the Fairfax County Parkway. Eighteen years later, I was pleased to work with Kaine to make completing the Fairfax County Parkway a priority. Thanks to a combination of federal, state and local dollars, the final missing segment of the parkway opened last year, and construction on a new interchange is nearly complete to improve traffic flow through the intersection with Fair Lakes Parkway.

Instead of focusing on areas of real need in Northern Virginia, Allen diverted millions of dollars to studying and promoting the so-called Western Bypass or Outer Beltway. Although that project might have merit sometime in the future, there is a considerable opportunity cost to pursuing it ahead of the region's already unmet transportation needs. The Virginia Department of Transportation's own analysis of the Outer Beltway shows it only would reduce traffic on Interstate 95 by 5 percent and on I-66 by 1 percent.

Given the small return on that investment, our limited resources would be better focused on those projects that will provide more immediate commuter relief like improving the Fairfax County Parkway, Va. 28, Richmond Highway and Va. 7, to name just a few.

Allen also talked about "Metro-like" rail service to Dulles Airport, but because he didn't secure funding or political commitments to the project, it languished. Eighteen years later, Phase I of the Dulles Rail is nearing completion. Kaine was an active partner with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during my tenure as chairman to advance this critical project. He also worked with the Congressional delegation to secure $900 million in federal money.

After being elected to Congress, I again was pleased to partner with Kaine to secure advance funding for Dulles Rail to realize long-term project savings. As one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the nation, Rail to Dulles is putting people to work right now and soon will deliver badly-needed transportation options for our residents. This project is vital, not only for the regional economy, but also that of the entire Commonwealth.

Those are just two examples of commuter improvements on which Kaine has delivered. He also was responsible for advancing the carpool/HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway, which are nearing completion, and the addition of a fourth lane on I-95 in southern Fairfax. Kaine's record on transportation in Northern Virginia proves he is a doer and not a talker.

Our economy, our businesses and our residents can't afford any more empty talk on transportation. The current anti-investment mentality in Richmond and Washington threaten the economic success of our region and our state. The only way we are going to break through this political log jam is if we have more partners in Washington like Kaine, who have a demonstrated commitment to working across the aisle to achieve results.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Dist. 11) represents large parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties.

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