When I went home over fall break I was surprised to discover Jerry Kilgore’s new strategy to win the Governor’s race. He was pursuing a shrewd plan to win the state’s wealthiest and most populated county, Fairfax.
Fairfax has a serious transportation problem: Arlington. Arlington is a tiny county, but it is home to every bridge leading into Washington D.C., so nearly every person who lives in Fairfax but works in D.C. has to commute through Arlington. The problem is exacerbated by Arlington’s refusal to widen Route 66, which cuts straight from Fairfax into D.C.
Jerry Kilgore has promised to enlarge Route 66. He knows that this will anger the citizens of Arlington, but he is being politically pragmatic. Arlington had a greater than 2 to 1 vote ratio for John Kerry over George Bush, while Fairfax’s votes were much closer. Kilgore is willing to sacrifice a few votes of Arlington’s approximately 130,000 registered voters for many more of the nearly 635,000 registered voters in Fairfax. This tactic has already won him the endorsement of the Fairfax business community.
Jerry Kilgore’s tactic might be politically adroit, but it shows a grave lack of foresight and vision for Virginia: paving new roads doesn’t solve traffic problems, it only delays them.
Yes, if Route 66 were widened, it would allow for an easier commute into Washington, but development will continue to increase, as will the demand for jobs in The District. In time, space will run out on 66, and we will once again be confronted with the same problem. We cannot pave forever and hope that traffic problems will resolve themselves; we need a long-term solution that Jerry Kilgore seems unwilling to provide.
A better solution to the State’s traffic problems would be to increase public transportation. There is ample evidence to show that public transportation works: the D.C. subway system currently has 190 million riders per year, and yet it only has 106.3 miles of track across Maryland and Washington D.C., in addition to Virginia.
Virginia herself has only 29.47 miles of the metro-rail system. Further, the jurisdiction that has the most metro stations is Arlington with 11; Alexandria has three and Fairfax has six. To make this clearer, Fairfax County, whose population is five times that of Arlington and whose geographic area is 15 times larger, has nearly half the number of stations as Arlington. This is to say nothing of Loudon, Prince William and Fauquier counties, who provide a large number of commuters each morning and evening, and yet have no metro stations at all.
It really ought to come as no surprise that there are traffic problems in Northern Virginia.
I know that many of you aren’t from up north, but I believe that the lessons learned there can be applied elsewhere in the state, particularly here on the Peninsula. There is a business corridor in Virginia that runs from Richmond to Virginia Beach along Route 64, with Williamsburg right in the center.
Those of us that regularly travel along Rt. 64 know that it is rife with congestion. Once again, politicians and community members advocate widening the road, but I believe that this area ought to build a high speed metro system from Richmond to Virginia Beach, with stops at all of the major cities along the way. I also think that each of those stops ought to have smaller systems leading out to the suburbs and exurbs, but there’s no need to go into that level of detail right now.
A high-speed rail system on the Peninsula would have many beneficial effects: not only would it decrease traffic problems on Rt. 64 (including the perpetual congestion of the bridge-tunnel) and be a more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly alternative to cars, but it would also be economically beneficial to the area. In fact, in Northern Virginia, every community with a metro stop experiences an economic boom.
In conclusion, we need to expand the D.C. metro-rail system in Northern Virginia, and we ought to build one here on the Peninsula. While these public transportation systems aren’t perfect, they provide a stable and beneficial alternative to the ad hoc system Jerry Kilgore endorses.
Dennis Kihm is a staff columnist for the DSJ. His views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.