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Mr. Kaine Goes to Washington

I just got back from Capitol Hill, where Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine spent the morning telling the House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines (say that five times fast) all about the state's public-private highway and transit ventures. Virginia has the most in the nation and I believe has been doing this the longest, so the subcommittee wanted to talk to Kaine about a practice that is fast spreading across the country. Kaine shared the stage with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who recently signed a 75-year, $3.8 billion deal--the biggest in American history--to lease the Indiana turnpike to a private consortium.

Kaine knew his stuff (as did Daniels) and you got the sense that he was excited to be on the Hill, but not so much that he was overwhelmed by it.

In his opening remarks, Kaine noted that Virginia manages the third largest highway system in the United States. He said public-private deals like the one planned for High Occupancy Toll lanes on the Beltway can address about 20 percent of the state's needs and are largely possible in highly developed areas like Northern Virginia. Kaine, who is in danger of losing his bid to increase taxes to raise $1 billion a year in new transportation money, added that "we cannot, and should not, ignore the remaining 80 percent of unmet needs." Kaine also told the lawmakers that the primary downside to these deals is that they give some lawmakers and people the false assurance that all transportation problems can be solved by private investment.

If it all sounds kinda boring, that's because it kinda was. The subcommittee members asked all the right questions, but ones that Virginians have been discussing for several years.

So let's move it forward a little and talk about a specific issue that is still in the works--the deal to hand over the Dulles Toll Road to the authority that runs Dulles and National airports in exchange for funding the bulk of a rail line to Dulles. The authority will operate the highway for the next 50 years and use the toll money to pay for the rail line. The state says it's a winner because it'll ensure that the rail line will get built. But critics have said it'll unduly burden drivers with tolls and that the state could have commanded billions from a private group, just like Indiana did. What do you guys think?

Also, I'm still interested in your weekend getaway strategies. Send those to me at ginsbergs@washpost.com.

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 24, 2006; 12:54 PM ET
 
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