“We could end up with nothing for transportation, but I believe doing nothing is better than doing too little and making it appear for political purposes that we have done something significant,” [Sen. Ken] Stolle said.

A few months ago, a leader of the Northern Virginia transportation forces told me the exact same thing: that any new money that falls short of $1 billion a year is worse than no money at all. Looks like he may have gotten his wish, with the Senate caving to the anti-tax ideologues in the House.

There’s a provision for $339 million if the House eventually agrees to a sustainable source of revenue. Who determines what’s sustainable is anybody’s guess. I suspect the House will push for a higher figure though based principally on the surplus, meaning it’s not sustainable. The House leaders will hope to claim victory and seek to solidify their power.

But politically, this could be the best thing for Virginia Democrats. If a comprehensive plan had passed, it’s doubtful that by Nov. 2007 there would be tangible results that voters could touch and feel and drive on. Many wouldn’t have been convinced that such a plan really improved their commute. But as they sit in traffic a year and a half hence, Dems should now be able to claim every single Republican House member at fault for the traffic mess.

This gives Dems time to do what they heretofore haven’t done. Outline precisely what a sustainable revenue stream could do for traffic. There must be plenty of models to employ that can show if we have x amount of dollars, we can build this project which can reduce commute time on this artery by x number of minutes. If they can’t, the state of transportation planning is in a sorrier state than I realized.

They also need to engage those who say the idea that we can pave our way out of traffic congestion is wrong-headed. Those who say land use planning is key need to be engaged to the point they need to tell us when we can expect relief.

The fact is neither side has outlined a compelling argument. Yes, I think we need to wean folks from the idea that they can drive whenever and wherever they please without significant consequence. It would be nice to live in a European type city where mass transit can take you everywhere and all but the poorest live in center city apartments, not exurbia McMansions. But how do you realistically get there? And how many years must we suffer gridlock before we arrive in Nirvana? It seems to me that such an existence could easily take two to three generations. Is that really politically feasible? And if it isn’t, then it’s no solution at all.

It seems to me we need both better land use planning and a lot more money to expand our transportation systems. It would behoove Dems to discuss, cogitate and develop such a vision. By Nov. 2007 would be nice.