Pierce Homers selection as state Deputy Transportation Secretary was a bittersweet one. He got the call from transportation chief Whittington W. Clement the same day his father died.
In making his decision whether to accept the position, he relied on three pieces of advice from his father, Porter Wyman Homer: “Forget about the money, go where youre wanted and have fun.”
The Prince William County deputy county executives appointment to Gov. Mark R. Warners administration has been hailed by many as a perfect fit. Not only is Homer known as a Northern Virginia transportation guru but the halls of the General Assembly have been his home for the last 15 years.
As the countys legislative liaison, he was involved in the passage of more than 80 pieces of legislation and the funding of more than $650 million in public improvements, according to a county commendation.
Most people around Prince William County government just know him as a man who gets things done.
“There are two things I take away,” he said in his farewell speech to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday. “One is the importance of continuity and the other is setting priorities and sticking to them year after year.”
During his first session in 1988, he worked on an agreement with state legislators to build the Va. 234 bypass. There were different ideas about how to fund it. “Someone said: You guys will never do it. Youll never do it, ” he recounted. “And weve done it, because we made it a priority and we stuck to it.”
It was the same story with land for George Mason University in Manassas. “We were looking at doing an executive MBA program and maybe some teacher recertification. We thought maybe we can get 20,000 square feet next to the community college campus in Manassas, ” he said. Many of the same individuals said Prince William would never do it. “If you go out there today … youll see 300,000 square feet under roof, a major recreation center and a world-class research center,” he said.
He said one of his few disappointments as he leaves the county has been an inability to relieve the traffic bottleneck on U.S. 1 approaching Ft. Belvoir.
He is most proud of his ability to work with state, federal, and local legislators, who often have different agendas. They also consider it a symbiotic relationship.
“Pierce has the ability to work through very complicated problems and come up with reasonable solutions. said Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd. “This is truly a time where his skills will be put to a test.”
“We cant overstate the importance of having a Northern Virginian in such a key spot,” said David Marin, legislative director for U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-11th. “Already weve had discussions with him on construction of the new (Woodrow) Wilson Bridge, among other things,” he said.
Some state legislators remember working with Homer on getting High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on interstates 66 and 95, concepts only dreamed of in 1990 when they were first considered. Six of the seven transportation priorities identified by the region at that time are now built and fully funded.
His new boss, Transportation Secretary Clement, has been a colleague and collaborator since he was in the House of Delegates representing Danville. Homer said they supported each other s tax funding proposals over the years Clements in the southern part of the state and Homers in the north.
Of the many hats Homer wore with the county, his passion remained transportation. “It has a beginning, a middle and an end,” he said, “and it touches everyones lives.” Homer has witnessed the profound effects of transportation stress firsthand. “Ive seen families break up over it; they just couldnt take that daily commute,” he said.
The big successes have been the countys internal road network and I-95 access to the county. Virtually every interchange off I-95 has been improved over the years, he said.
He made sure road projects integral to easier travel in the county such as Minnieville Road and Hoadley Road were included in the six-year plan.
But those who think his appointment to the state means a blank check for the county are mistaken. After working his entire career to get projects into the states six-year plan, he now may have the unfortunate task of cutting them out.
“Each one of you has been mad at me before, and youre going to be a lot madder at me in this new role,” he told the board, hinting at the tough choices that will need to be made. The state is facing a huge budget deficit, and transportation will be one of the casualties. “Its going to involve some significant and painful cuts,” he said.
His first priority when he gets to Richmond will be to restore fiscal integrity to the states six-year transportation plan, he said. “It can be made honest.” That will involve getting an honest revenue estimate.
Warner recently told the Commonwealth Transportation Board that $2.4 billion in projects could be cut from the six-year plan about 24 percent of the $10 billion budget, according to Dana Fenton, assistant to Prince William County Executive Craig S. Gerhart.
Homers last day in Prince William was Friday, also his birthday. The 46-year-old begins his new job in Richmond on Monday and moves with wife Stacy, and daughter, Anna Grace.