study stalls Virginia budget
Alfred M. Biddlecomb
RICHMOND – Debate over the state budget took an interesting turn Thursday
as lawmakers in the Senate shifted attention from the car tax to a small
paragraph added to the $50 billion spending plan that could delay studies
for the proposed Western Transportation Corridor.
Sen. John H. Chichester, R-Stafford, successfully preserved an item
he added to the Senate’s version of the budget that forbids the state from
spending money on an environmental impact study needed by state officials
to move forward with the bypass which would wind around the Northern Virginia
suburbs through western Stafford, Prince William and Loudoun counties.
Both the Senate and House of Delegates put the finishing touches on
their versions of the state budget Tuesday and will work together to form
a unified spending measure in the coming weeks.
Chichester said Thursday that he didn’t necessarily object to the idea
of a bypass as long as it was limited to its initial course which only brushes
the northern boarder of his home county. But a lack of cooperation between
the Virginia Department of Transportation and the localities involved, Chichester
said, forced him to add language to the budget which could stall the planning
If Chichester’s budget amendments survives, it would risk cancellation
of an $11.5 million contract between VDOT and a company hired to do the
“In its current configuration, the WTC comes around Prince William
County and around the Quantico Marine Corps Base and exits (onto I-95) at
the Stafford line,” Chichester said. “But I fear the attempt would
be to dissect the county.”
Chichester, whose district also includes eastern Prince William, said
the legislature asked transportation officials to seek input from counties
and organizations that may have a problem with the WTC, but it never happened.
“They blew the legislature off in discussing that and now we have
this environmental impact study,” said Chichester who contends VDOT
wants to go ahead with the study before gaining funding from lawmakers.
“My angst is not with the current configuration, but the philosophy
of rewarding contracts with money we don’t have.”
Sen. Warren Barry, R-Fairfax, objected to the budget language saying
it was planted in the budget to disrupt plans for the bypass which he said
will improve traffic on the Interstate 95 corridor from Arlington to Stafford.
“If there were some way to move Stafford County out of the I-95
corridor, I would certainly try some way to facilitate that,” Barry
joked. “This amendment does a disservice to the attempts to try and
solve the transportation problems of Northern Virginia.”
Barry said regardless of the situation with VDOT, the environmental
impact study should be allowed to proceed.
“The daily commute in Northern Virginia is second only to Los Angeles
with three mile backups occurring regularly,” Barry said. “I think
if we don’t have a bypass, we are going to see traffic backup into Stafford
County creating that situation [Chichester] doesn’t want to see created.”
Plans for the corridor have been in the works for decades but a final
path between I-95 and its intended crossing of the Potomac in Loudoun has
yet to be finalized, which worries those on both sides of the issue.
Business leaders and developers say the bypass is needed to relieve congestion
along I-95, but a number of area residents have lined up against the highway
saying it will invite sprawl.
With residents and local government officials divided on the idea of
a Western Transportation Corridor, Sen. Charles J. Colgan, said he understood
Chichester’s position, but noted that an environmental impact study could
help the situation.
“Since the study is already underway, we should let it proceed,”
Colgan said. “Most people in Prince William County don’t know where
this road is going to run and this could help us begin to find out.”
Colgan added that an environmental impact study could help bring local
concerns to the forefront. “It would be a mistake to reject this study
at this time,” Colgan said.
Despite the pleas from a number of Northern Virginia lawmakers to remove
the restrictive language, Chichester’s amendment was voted into the budget
during a voice vote.
The topic will most likely come up again when Senate and House budget
negotiators gather to create a final budget document toward the end of the
46-day legislative session.