What a pointless couple of days we just spent in Richmond! You’ll recall that during the Regular Session That Would Not Die, it was suggested that the way to deal with the Commonwealth’s transportation woesÂ was to decoupleÂ the issueÂ from the budget process and go into a special session devoted solely to transportation. So we did. And what did we get out of it?Â Bupkis.
Here’s what we’re left with at the end of the Road to Nowhere:
- There was consensus among four of the five institutional players — House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the Governor — that any fix had to include a component that addressed our needs on a long term,Â statewide basis. In order to move from conceptual agreement to actual legislation, you need a bill bouncing back between the two chambers to talk about. On Tuesday, the fifth players — House Republicans — killed off the only discussion vehicle before us, SB 5013.
- Additionally, four of the five agreed generally that the critical transportation needs ofÂ the two most populousÂ and congested corners of the stateÂ — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — had to be addressed separately through regional authorities. Once again, on Tuesday the Fifth Horsemen — House Republicans — shot down a couple of vehicles the Senate had sent over to us, SB 5016 and SB 5014. For good measure, they turned on their own, deep-sixingÂ HB 5056, a good-faith regional proposal brought forward by a handful of House Republicans.Â
- So what was still standing when the full House and Senate convened on Wednesday? A bill to raiseÂ around $1.5 billion statewide for transportation over five years. ($1.5 billion sounds like a lot, but in reality it would have netted Northern Virginia about enough to pay for a highway interchange each year.) Oh, and the Senate had signaled in no uncertain terms that the financing mechanism was unacceptable to them, so the bill would be DOA.
- A bunch of bills tinkering with the transportation bureaucracy — many of them worthwhile, none of them earthshaking.
- A bill allocating $339 million inÂ surplus funds to various transportation projects around the state. I offered an amendment to redirect some of that money to focus on a transportationÂ problem just over the horizon that has the potential to paralyze the entire Northern Virginia region: the Army’s plan to relocate 22,000 jobs over the next five years to the Fort Belvoir area. The road and transitÂ network down there is totally inadequate to handle an influx of that magnitude, and it could very well create gridlock from the 14th Street Bridge to Fredericksburg. My amendment, alas, went down on a near-party line vote. Mark my words: we’ll all live to regret it.
Here’s the really bad part: by doing nothing this week, we’ve virtually ensured that nothing meaningful will happen on transportation for another two whole years. The reason: the political calendar.Â 2007 is an election year for all 100 Delegates and 40 Senators. If we couldn’t summon up the collective will to make the hard choices now, do you think we’ll be able to next year? Of course.Â And pigs fly.
UPDATE: Channeling Oliver Cromwell, this morning’sÂ Richmond Times-Dispatch summed up Special Session I perfectly.