McDonnell visits

Published 11:17 pm Saturday, August 15, 2009

At the tail end of a swing through Virginia along Route 58 this week, Bob McDonnell had strong words about the need for improvements to Route 460.

His interest in improving the road he’d spent two days traveling seemed a bit more subdued.

“Route 460 is the most important project to link Richmond with Suffolk and Hampton Roads,” he said in an interview with the Suffolk News-Herald Tuesday.

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The Republican candidate for governor called it “unacceptable” progress on a Route 460 replacement has been stalled following the submission of plans to build a replacement of the highway under the Public Private Transportation Act.

Three companies have submitted proposals for a limited-access link between Richmond and Suffolk, but the process has been stalled since the state’s deadline at the end of last year for proposals with greater detail. The timetable calls for final approval of a plan in November.

“(Route) 460 has got to be built,” McDonnell said.

Given the current traffic levels along Route 58 in Suffolk and plans for a sprawling intermodal commerce center that would greatly increase truck traffic on the road, many Suffolk residents are even more worried about where the state will find money to widen that road or build a bypass.

McDonnell was somewhat vague in his solution to that problem.

He suggested that a special taxation district could be set up around Virginia’s ports, which would be the source of most of that new traffic, but he also noted that the money raised from such a fund would be split up among all of Virginia’s regions, a solution that would greatly reduce the amount of money available for Route 58 improvements in Suffolk.

His transportation plan, he added, would offer “some special help for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads,” though he offered no specifics regarding that special help.

The transportation plan accounted for a small portion of a brief meeting in Suffolk, the last stop on McDonnell’s Route 58 swing in his “New Jobs, More Opportunities” RV tour.

In keeping with the theme, he concentrated most of his comments on the economy.

“The key issue for me is jobs and economic development,” he said, his voice showing the strain of meetings at newspapers all along the route. “This is the toughest situation the state has had in a long time.”

McDonnell said he would take a variety of steps as governor to promote small business growth in Virginia.

Doubling the Governor’s Economic Activity Fund, expanding Historically Underutilized Business Zones throughout the commonwealth, creating the position of deputy secretary of commerce and trade to promote new jobs in Southside Virginia and promoting alternative industries and products would go a long way toward reinstating many of the jobs that have been lost along the Route 58 corridor as tobacco, manufacturing and textiles have diminished in economic importance, he said.

“The heart and soul of my campaign is fostering jobs and economic development,” he added.

McDonnell acknowledged the need for improvements in the state’s educational system as a component of expanding economic opportunities citizens of Virginia.

“We should inspire young people to dream big,” he said, noting his platform calls for more charter schools, more school choice and a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math courses.

Virginia educators need to “spend more time and effort making school more challenging and more interesting,” he said.

To that end, he would “spend more money in classrooms … and less money on administration,” he added, and he would seek to “give police a little bit more authority regarding truancy” in order to keep students in the classrooms.

A longtime resident of Virginia Beach, McDonnell said he considers himself the Hampton Roads candidate for governor. His Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, is a resident of Bath County.

“We haven’t had a Hampton Roads governor in 40 years, since (the late) Mills Godwin,” a Suffolk resident, he said.

In a press release preceding McDonnell’s visit to Suffolk, Deeds said, “As Bob makes a stop in Suffolk today, it’s interesting that he chose to travel there along the same route that he repeatedly neglected as a member of the House of Delegates.”

Deeds pointed to McDonnell votes as a delegate that denied bonds for transportation funding (including along Route 58) and trimmed a development fund that was intended to expand economic opportunity along the corridor.