Del. Jim LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, plans to reintroduce legislation in coming weeks that he said would de-politicize road improvements in Northern Virginia by having computer models, rather than local officials, determine which projects should be the region's highest priorities. LeMunyon said the computer models would provide an unbiased, apolitical view of what projects would provide the most "bang for your buck" in the region and could head off political disputes among local elected officials that delay projects like the widening of Interstate 66.


The use of computer models also would hold elected officials accountable by providing the public a list of transportation priorities, and officials who choose not to fund the best projects would have to answer to voters, he said.

The legislation has drawn endorsements from the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and Gov. Bob McDonnell's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, who see it as a new starting point for debates over how to distribute the state's dwindling transportation funds.

"This is a better starting point and a better approach than the current one, which often doesn't involve engineers but decisions by politicians," said Bob Chase, the transportation alliance's president.

Yet officials in other areas of Virginia who have used the computer models acknowledge that they still represent just the beginning of a long, politicized process of deciding where scarce transportation funds must go.

"Just because a model scores high doesn't necessarily mean that it will be the highest priority project," said Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. "The tough part then still becomes the political decision."

The Hampton Roads group ran a computer model that showed that improvements to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel should be the top priority, which Del. Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, said could help bolster the region's efforts to secure state funding for the project.

However, a second computer model failed to list the bridge-tunnel project as the top priority, underscoring a fundamental problem with the process. Different models produce different results with no clear indication of which is right, said Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.

Connaughton still supports computer modeling as a means of identifying road priorities, however.

"This is exactly the type of process that we will look to to identify and prioritize transportation projects," he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation currently does some modeling of its own, but with limited success, Connaughton said. The type of models LeMunyon envisions would likely require hiring a consultant and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is the second time around for LeMunyon's bill. The General Assembly rejected it last year, arguing that there wasn't any money to fund it. LeMunyon argues that the modeling provides a means of ensuring that the state's limited road funds are spent in a cost-effective manner.