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Open-Container Ban Would Net Millions

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Virginia's transportation funding crisis is a cause célèbre at the General Assembly, has been for years.

Despite this — and despite sponsoring various transportation funding-related bills — Delegate Harry R. Purkey (R-Virginia Beach) says he's largely disinterested in the road-funding component of one of his pet legislative proposals.

The bill, which very sensibly seeks to curb drunken driving by banning open alcohol containers from car passenger areas, could also free up $16 million in federal bucks for highway projects. That's pocket change for the Virginia Department of Transportation, but enough to take seriously.

Purkey has submitted some form of his bill during the past six sessions, always to no avail. "It's like pushing a rock up a hill, to change public attitude," he says, citing rural areas of the state as the bill's primary opponents.

Though $16 million is a handy chunk of change for VDOT, the road funds are "such an ancillary benefit if [the bill] should pass," Purkey says.

The money currently does not go to road funding because Virginia is one of 11 states not in compliance with the federal Transportation Equity Act, which requires a ban on open containers. The money would come to the state as federal highway construction funding; it arrives now with the caveat that it must be spent on drunk-driver education programs.

As is, the money goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles. DMV sends 50 percent of the money to VDOT, which uses it for its own drunken-driving campaigns.

Purkey says he's close to having "the majority that we need" to pass the bill. "It will happen one day," he says. "And when it does I plan to do a little dance." S

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