Photo by cabbit on Flickr.

The Virginia Senate’s finance commmittee killed three bad transportation-related bills, all of which would have transferred decision-making over transportation in Northern Virginia to Richmond and away from the region’s counties and cities.

HB2000 would mandate that Governor McDonnell’s representative to the Northern Virginia Transpor­tation Commission—currently Thelma Drake, from Virginia Beach—become one of Virginia’s two voting members of the WMATA Board.

Supporters repeatedly invoked the Board of Trade and its chairman, Jim Dyke, whose governance report pushed for reducing the local role. Governor McDonnell also reportedly made personal calls to each senator. But opponents pointed out that the state is overstating its financial support for Metro, and that for decades it played virtually no role.

Fairfax Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, the current WMATA Board chair, came to Richmond to testify against the bill. She said that Northern Virginia governments are willing to give the state government some involvement in WMATA governance, but not at the expense of diminishing their own role. She asked the legislature to let the current process of discussion and negotiation within the WMATA Board and NVTC continue to a resolution.

None of the senators brought up the fact that Governor McDonnell has still sent no letter to Congress about the $150 million capital appropriation for needed repairs that’s on the chopping block, but that’s a great argument against writing it into law that he must get power over WMATA.

Chairman Charles Colgan (D-Manassas) was the only Democrat to support the bill; four of the five Republicans, none from Northern Virginia, also voted for it, and two were not present.

NVTC can still give a seat to Drake if they choose; the benefit of having NVTC decide to do it instead of the legislature mandating it is that NVTC could reverse course if the governor decides to cut back on the already-meager state financial support.

The Senate panel also killed the two “anti-livability” bills, which would essentially override regional transportation planning and enshrine six-Beltways booster Bob Chase‘s own transportation priorities into law.

They would have required VDOT to rank projects (HB1998) and prioritize funding (HB1999) based on just two factors: what moves traffic faster, and what aids evacuation in case of a disaster.

The evacuation argument is a common canard used to push road-building, but the fact is that no realistic amount of roads will let everyone in the DC region drive at the same time. As Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) pointed out, DC’s own disaster plans recognize that, and don’t call for mass evacuation.

Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria representatives lobbied against HB1999, arguing that these transportation priorities should instead come from the existing processes through regional bodies that already make these decisions. The panel agreed on a party-line vote despite pressure from groups like the Price William Chamber of Commerce and the Apartment and Office Building Association.

Responding to questions from Senator Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania), Finance Committee staff judged that HB1998 would have cost up to $5 million, and so no senator even made a motion to pass that bill.

News out of the legislature wasn’t as good for bicycling, as the House rejected a number of bicycle bills including one to give Charlottesville permission to put contraflow bicycle lanes on one-way streets where the traffic and police departments feel it’s appropriate.

The bill to require passing cyclists with three feet of space also died, as did a number of bills to limit cell phone use while driving.