Recently the Sun Gazette reported that the state legislature is going to eliminate $100,000 in county road maintenance funds to cover legal fees to defend former state Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer in connection with the I-395 HOT lanes project that Arlington County Board sued to stop in 2010. This move reflects a bipartisan consensus in Richmond that County Board was wrong to sue Homer and other transportation officials in an individual rather than official capacity, thus making them personally liable. The $100,000 is in addition to $1 million a year in foregone county tourism taxes that the legislature axed last year in retribution.
This game of tit for tat reflects more than hubris. It is meant to signal local jurisdictions that Richmond calls the shots on transportation projects, and the role of local government is to sign on the dotted line. Arlington’s all Democratic General Assembly delegation should be outraged. Certainly Arlington County Board had a solid case against VDOT, which violated the National Environmental Policy Act in undertaking a major road construction project affecting forty miles of the most heavily traveled interstate in the U.S. without the benefit of an environmental assessment. Also the Board’s hard ball strategy paid off, because VDOT ultimately back down and decided to scrap HOT lanes on I-395. In effect County Board stopped VDOT at the city gates. Any self-respecting Democrat should view this as cause for celebration not angst. But no. The Arlington Democratic delegation has hung Chris Zimmerman out to dry for demanding what the law requires. They think he needs to learn how to roll over like they do.
Unfortunately the GOP isn’t interested in a civil debate about why environmental assessments are needed for major highway projects. I learned this the hard way when I sued to stop the widening of I-66 inside the Beltway for the same reason–no environmental assessment. I amassed a lot of case law to support my argument, and played nice with DOJ lawyers only to be laughed summarily out of court. Democrats need to learn that you have to play hard ball with Richmond, because it’s the only game Richmond knows how to play.