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Traffic: State's chronic problem
Congested roads: Virginia's persistent problem

 Deeds
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Date published: 10/11/2009

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

If special blue-ribbon transportation study panels and political speeches could ease congestion, there would-n't be a traffic problem.

State officials have been talking about how to fix transportation for years. They've had two legislative special sessions and dozens of proposals, but it remains a problem that's not just lingering, but increasing.

As a result, it's now an issue in this year's governor's race. Republican Bob McDonnell has put out a multi-page transportation plan full of specifics, proposing everything but a tax increase. Some of his ideas have been rejected in the past by the legislature.

Democrat Creigh Deeds has avoided committing to a revenue source, saying almost everything is "on the table" and that if elected, he'll form a bipartisan commission to study the issue and craft a bill.

The issue has proved a headache for Deeds especially, whose plan tends to look vague compared with McDonnell's 19-page proposal. At a debate last month in Fairfax, Deeds had difficulty answering questions about whether he'd support raising taxes to pay for transportation.

And despite all the sound and fury over the issue in this campaign, there's no guarantee either man can find a transportation solution that has eluded lawmakers in the past.

THE PROBLEM

Virginia has thousands more cars on the roads than it did 20 years ago. Most of those cars are in the same places--Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads--causing congestion.

Those cars also get better gas mileage than cars of 20 years ago, meaning that their owners buy less gas, thus reducing one source of money for the transportation fund, the gas tax. At the same time, the cost of building more roads for those cars, and maintaining existing ones, has gone up.

THE DEBATE

Most state politicians agree there is some level of problem with transportation funding. But two lengthy special legislative sessions have not produced a long-term solution.

Taxes, tolls, public-private partnerships, land-use tools--all have been on the table at some point as legislators debate whether they need a statewide solution or a regional one, and whether taxes should be raised.

The gas tax is, at least on its face, perhaps the simplest, although also the most controversial, of proposals. It has been levied at a flat 17.5 cents per gallon since 1986, and raising it would provide more revenue and apply to everyone.


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