Rollison to journey different road

Delegate John R. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District, accepted an appointment as special assistant to Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet on Thursday, nearly two months after he unexpectedly lost a bid for re-election.

Rollison will resign his House seat and join VDOT Sept. 15.

The assignment gives Rollison, 52, a place to land after his surprising loss in June to political newcomer Jeff Frederick, 27, in a Republican primary.

The appointment is not unexpected since Rollison has been adept at maintaining relationships across party lines.

Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner took Rollison’s sales tax referendum last year and ran with it until voters defeated it in November.

Rollison wrote the language that Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III used to begin phasing out the car tax and create the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000 that sent general fund dollars to transportation.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Rollison said. “It’s going to be a chance for me to roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, and follow through with some of the reforms I’ve been working on for the last six years.”

Rollison had been in talks for the job for the last several weeks. He becomes the only special assistant to Shucet. He will help oversee urban congestion relief, federal transportation reauthorization and community outreach, as well as help VDOT in phasing in a new urban construction program that gives localities more responsibility in project management.

The salary is $95,000.

Republicans praised Warner for the move.

“I applaud Gov. Warner’s appointment of Jack Rollison to this position,” said Newport News Sen. Marty Williams, R-1st District, and Joint Republican Caucus chairman, in a statement. “He could not have made a better choice. Jack is well respected in the legislature and has a firm grasp of the challenges our transportation network faces. In fact, no one in the Assembly has a greater knowledge of transportation issues. I look forward to working with him.”

Legislation passed this year allows cities to take more responsibility for road projects beginning July 1, 2004. Rollison said this is part of the agency’s goal to decentralize management. He will assist in the transition. Already volunteering are Newport News, Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach and Richmond.

Although Rollison did not leave willingly, two other Prince William legislators have left the General Assembly for top appointments in the state capital in the last five years.

David Brickley represented the 51st District for 22 years until he took an appointment by Gilmore in 1998 as director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation that paid $95,000. Brickley is challenging Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District, now that his home was redrawn into that district.

Warren Barry represented the Senate 37th District until last year when he took an appointment by Warner to the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. One of three members, Barry is paid $104,000.

The 52nd District House race has none of the fighting over state resources that Rollison advanced during the later part of his 18 years in office — not after the sound defeat of his sales tax referendum. His position last year was the state does not have enough money to fund its transportation needs. Neither Frederick nor Democratic candidate Charlie Taylor are suggesting new state dollars be raised to solve area traffic congestion. Both say VDOT must manage itself better.

Rollison declined to engage in the politics.

“I’ll just say we think there is room for improvement at the Department of Transportation,” he said. “We have been able to put together a very good professional staff and I’m excited about the opportunity to work with people of such high caliber.”

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.