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Imperfect Solutions Better Than None

Post staff writer Alec MacGillis offers a very good summary of the issues involved in building the rail line through Tysons to Dulles. Big projects like this rarely turn out to be just about getting people from one place to another. The rail line clearly is also about organizing people: organizing where they live and work and how they shop.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, the General Assembly is still trying to get organized, as staff writer Mike Shear tells us in today's Post. It's unclear what, if any, transportation plan will emerge by the time the annual legislative session ends this month, but there's still a chance. That debate also is not just about getting people from one place to another.

The bill we write the most about is House Bill 3202, the one sponsored by Speaker Bill Howell. Look at the italic parts. That's the new stuff. See how much of it isn't just about buying more trains, buses and roads. Some sections are about shifting control over who gets to do that. Other parts are about tying development projects to transportation projects.

Both these debates -- over the rail project and over the state transportation plan -- reflect some lessons learned: We've allowed too many problems to accumulate, so any proposed fix with a realistic chance of working is bound to be complicated. Spending $4 billion on a rail line isn't worth it if the goal is simply to get people too and from an airport. Taking more money from taxpayers isn't worth it if the goal is simply to provide full employment for contractors and developers.

Problem is that in both these cases, people are running out of time. The rail project can't wait a couple more years to get going, not with all the other development and transportation projects that are going to disrupt and remake Tysons. And Virginia's legislative session is one of the shortest in the nation. Only a couple more weeks and the legislators will go home. An imperfect solution -- an elevated train line in one case, and spending some general fund money in the other -- beats no solution.

Join me at 1 p.m. today for a Live Online discussion about traffic and transit issues. You can submit questions now by clicking on this link. We can talk about these issues in transportation politics or anything else you want to vent about as you travel the roads and rails.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 12, 2007; 9:04 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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