Transportation issues seen as factors in governors’ races

| 11/4/2009

Republicans claimed victories in two governors’ races Tuesday, Nov. 3, taking control of the top seats in New Jersey and Virginia. Transportation issues likely were significant factors in both races.

In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine was narrowly defeated by Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney. With a voting margin of 49 percent to 45 percent, Christie is the first Republican to win a statewide election in the Garden State since Gov. Christie Whitman was re-elected in 1997.

The Virginia governor’s race wasn’t close. Republican Robert McDonnell, a former state attorney general, easily defeated Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, a veteran state Senator by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

The outcomes in both states allowed Republicans to narrow the gap between the two major political parties in gubernatorial seats. In early 2010, Republicans will hold the top office in 24 states with Democrats in control of 26 states.

Gov. Corzine became the first incumbent in New Jersey to lose an election since 1993. He lost favor among many in the trucking industry during his term. Among the complaints was a push to lease the state’s toll roads. And in the past month he signed into law a bill permitting police to pull over truckers and others whose vehicles are not cleared of snow and ice.

In the final weeks of his re-election effort, Corzine addressed the state’s transportation fund. During a second term, the governor said he would be open to increasing the state’s fuel tax rates. He also mentioned diverting money from other budgets to roads.

Governor-elect Christie said during his campaign that he is opposed to increasing the fuel tax rates to fund transportation infrastructure improvements.

In Virginia, Governor-elect McDonnell has already announced a lengthy plan to pay for the state’s mounting list of transportation needs. Unveiled during the summer while on the campaign trail, the plan doesn’t include tax increases.

Among the options pegged are tolls on Interstates 85 and 95 and tapping into public-private partnerships. He also wants to reroute to transportation money going to other sources.

McDonnell claims the “outside the box” proposal would generate about $1.5 billion a year during the next decade.

To reduce traffic on Interstate 81, McDonnell is hopeful of moving some freight off trucks and putting it on trains. By providing “modest” resources for more rail capacity, McDonnell’s plan states that “we can take many of the trucks off the road, improving safety and congestion on the interstate.”

Also on the agenda is a plan for a boost in the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on more stretches of interstate. Currently, vehicles are allowed to travel 70 mph on only a stretch of I-85 in southern Virginia. McDonnell has indicated he plans to pursue faster speeds on rural stretches of highway statewide.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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