Prince William News
Thu., Jan. 31 - mcdonnells-transportation-plans-includes-four-pw-projects
McDonnell’s transportation plans includes four PW projects
© Gainesville TimesThe $1.28 billion state highway funding plan released last week by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) as part of his larger transportation proposal includes four projects specific to Prince William County.
However, ideological and political differences may prevent the governor's plan from passing during his last year in office.
Nearly $13.4 million is dedicated toward widening Route 28 between Godwin Drive in the City of Manassas to just south of the Vint Hill Road intersection in Bristow, according to McDonnell spokesperson Paul Shanks.
"Due to funding limitations the larger project was unable to move to construction," Shanks wrote in an e-mail.
He added that smaller projects by the Virginia Department of Transportation, Prince William County, and developers alike "have widened the majority of this area. A small portion still needs widening to its ultimate configuration and the identified project will implement this."
Another $10 million is set aside for the early stages of extending the Route 234 Bypass to Route 50 in Loudoun County.
Shanks used both the terms "bi-county" and "tri-county" parkway to explain the new road in an initial e-mail.
When asked to clarify which he meant, given that the planned routes are two different designs, he replied, "The tri-county has morphed into the bicounty."
One part is for a bypass around the Manassas Battlefield.
Another is the route connecting Prince William County to Loudoun County as an alternative to Route 28 or U.S. 15 that would run from the bypass north of Interstate 66 in Manassas "to Route 50 to the west of the battlefield," wrote Shanks.
Also on the docket, nearly $2.18 million is being set aside to improve "existing non-surfaced roads to paved facilities" throughout the county, according to Shanks.
That means secondary roads in the county with average daily traffic volumes between 400 and 1,500 vehicles would be paved.
Lastly, $10 million would go for "design and some land acquisition for an interchange at the existing Route 234 Bypass and Dumfries Road," according to Shanks.
He mentioned that preliminary design "is needed to determine the ultimate configuration" of the interchange in Manassas.
When asked on Jan. 24 for comment about those proposals, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R) said he was unaware of them at the time.
However, while he lauded McDonnell for presenting a plan, he balked at the main funding mechanism that would drive it, which would be an increase in the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent while eliminating the gas tax.
"I do disagree with the way he wants to raise the money," said Stewart.
His issue is that physical retailers have enough issues competing with Internet retailers, so an increased sales tax that the Internet retailers would not have to pay would make for a competitive disadvantage.
"Increasing the sales tax is bad for a lot of reasons," said Stewart.
McDonnell, in the early going, lined up little support for his plan among both Republicans and Democrats in the evenly divided state Senate.
Separate interviews among local senators indicated as much.
State Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-29th), the dean of the upper legislature and ranking member on the Senate finance committee, balked at the idea in part because out of state drivers would not have to pay anything at the pump.
He said McDonnell surprised him with the announcement of his plan as he had not heard much about it until the week the governor unveiled it.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Dick Black (R-13th) cited both the increased fees and the sales tax hike as notions he could not support.
Added to the mix came a surprise move by state Senate Republicans on Jan. 21 that caught even the GOP governor off guard.
State Sen. Henry Marsh (D-16th), who is an African American and civil rights leader, attended the second inauguration of Pres. Barack Obama that day, which also coincided with the federal holiday dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Only 19 Democrats were present in the state Senate that day because of his absence while all 20 Republicans showed up.
At that point, the GOP majority added an amendment to a bill involving technical changes to the state House of Delegates' redistricting.
The amendment offered sweeping changes to state Senate districts that created a minority-majority district in Southside but diluted the strength of Democratic base voters throughout the commonwealth in other districts.
That made the new districts more strongly Republican.
Republicans argued that the fix was needed in order to make districts more compact following the Democrats' version of redistricting that passed in 2011.
They also argued that the existing districts are so skewed, they could be open to a Department of Justice challenge.
Democrats unanimously voted against it but the 20-19 GOP majority for the day passed it anyway.
State Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35th) vowed to kill any transportation proposal set forth by the GOP, including McDonnell's, as long as the GOP's redistricting plan remained on the table.
Entering this week, the House of Delegates had not voted on it yet and McDonnell did not say whether he would veto it.
As for Democratic complaints that the redistricting bill came up while an African American state senator was out so he could attend the re-inauguration of the county's first black president on a holiday dedicated to a civil rights icon, the county chairman Stewart, in so many words, flipped out.
"That's just a bunch of bull [expletive]," said Stewart during a phone interview. "That's political bull [expletive]."
Stewart vigorously opposed the Democrats' redistricting bill in 2011 and has repeatedly signaled out state Sen. George Barker (D-39th), who represents parts of Prince William County, for carving up the county "like a Thanksgiving turkey."
He noted in press release last week that Prince William "is split into five different Senate districts, four of which are centered in other jurisdictions. The 425,000 residents of Prince William County, who by their numbers are entitled to more than two full senate districts, are represented by only one senator who is a county resident."
That senator is Colgan, who Stewart opposed for re-election in 2011. Colgan won a tenth term anyway.
"This new plan also corrects split precincts, which have caused significant confusion among voters," wrote Stewart, who is also running for lieutenant governor.
During an interview, Stewart called the Democrats "weasels in the Senate" and said it was disingenuous for them to call foul over the dilution of power for minority voters in other districts when a minority-majority county like Prince William County is under represented, "which itself is racist."
As for the GOP plan, Stewart
"Don't get me wrong. It still is not a dream plan," said Stewart.
Even if McDonnell signs the bill, Democrats have threatened to sue in both state and local courts over the bill itself and the manner in which is passed.
Stewart, likewise, threw a refrain popularized by former Democratic Pres. Harry Truman back at the Democrats.
"If you can't stand the heat in the kitchen, get out," he said. "This is politics."