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House passes gov’s transpo bill, McDonnell pushes Senate Dems to support

This morning the House of Delegates passed its version of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation bill, and the Senate will take up the bill later today.

The House’s vote was close — 53 to 46, and it was the support of a handful of Democrats that pushed it over the top.

A few supported the bill because amendments attached Monday night specifically bar tolling on I-95 south of Fredericksburg.

Others said they just want to move a transportation bill forward.

“It’s time for us not to be like Washington,” said Del. Luke Torian, D-Dumfries. “We become like Washington when a critical bill like this comes before us and we do nothing and we bicker.”

Much of the debate came down to divisions between lawmakers from the congested urban crescent of Northern Virginia-Richmond-Hampton Roads, and legislators from more rural areas.

Lawmakers from Northern Virginia particularly have been pushing for the bill to include more money for their area.

“I am dying in traffic,” said Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, who said he was angry the House had just voted for money for U.S. 58 in rural Southside Virginia, and then killed a bill to give the urban areas another three votes on the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

“We must be treated better,” Albo said.

Those backing the bill urged their peers to vote the bill forward, with the expectation that it may be made more palatable in conference negotiations with the Senate later on.

“The (road) gridlock is caused by the gridlock here in the General Assembly,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, a main sponsor of the bill.

If delegates vote no, he said, “you’re voting no on further transportation discussion this year.”

While the House vote was close, the Senate vote later today could be even closer — and the bill might fail in the evenly-split chamber.

Yesterday Sen. Steve Newman, the lead sponsor of McDonnell’s transportation bill, submitted an amendment that would radically change the bill. While McDonnell wants to eliminate the state gas tax and raise the sales tax, Newman’s bill eliminates the cents-per-gallon gas tax and replaces it with a 5.5 percent sales tax on gas.

McDonnell held a press availability in the Capitol Rotunda this morning to urge lawmakers — particularly Senate Democrats — to support the bill. He said he prefers his own original bill but is open to Newman’s amendments.

“I want to be able to have a bill to pass both houses,” McDonnell said.

But he opposes proposals from others, like Sen. Dick Saslaw, that would raise taxes higher.

He also pointed out a new study from the Texas Transportation Institute that says Northern Virginia is the most congested area in the country.

“We just can’t wait anymore,” McDonnell said. “There are no more acceptable excuses.”

He said that if Democrats vote against the bill this afternoon, “it says they’re really not serious” and that they “don’t care” about the congestion their constituents face.

Most Fredericksburg-area delegates voted for McDonnell’s bill: House Speaker Bill Howell, Del. Bobby Orrock, Del. Mark Dudenhefer, Del. Margaret Ransone, Del. Peter Farrell and Del. Ed Scott all voted for it.

Del. Mark Cole and Del. John Cox voted against it.

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