County To Face Significant Transportation Decisions This Fall
Receiving a proper level of transportation funding from the Commonwealth
has long been a challenge for Northern Virginia; a situation our current
economic difficulties have only compounded. In Virginia, almost all roads
are owned and maintained by the state, not the county, and state funding
has plummeted. Now, state officials openly talk about handing
responsibility for local roads over to local governments and there is no
state plan that comes close to meeting our transportation needs in
Fairfax. This fall, after exploring the financial, legal and legislative
issues associated with transportation funding and with the delivery of
roadway service, County staff will provide the Board with a recommended
course of action on whether or not we should seek control of secondary
roads - and to what extent.
Additionally, in June, County staff outlined for the Board, Fairfax
County’s long-term transportation requirements. This potential, ten-year,
$10 billion County plan would require enhancing the funding levels
currently provided by the local, state and federal governments. Of the
total, $4.7 billion is presently identified. Staff suggests the remaining
$5.3 billion may need to come from the County.
The plan includes funding for VRE, Metro, the Connector bus system and
the Columbia Pike Streetcar; Dulles Rail Phase I and II; BRAC-related
projects to help ease congestion around Fort Belvoir; a number of
Specific Area Improvements such as Bailey’s, Annandale, Springfield;
Tysons Corner improvements such as widening Route 7, extending Boone
Boulevard and Greensboro Drive and adding exit ramps from the Dulles Toll
Road; and ten road widenings and five interchange improvements across the
County - even park and rides and roadway maintenance are included.
There are no good options for how the County would provide the $5.3
billion in funding needed to implement this list of projects. County
staff suggested a menu of painful tax and fee increases for consideration
that would still fall roughly $1 billion short of the additional funding
needed to implement the plan.
These funding proposals included 1) a Countywide Meals Tax – at an assumed rate of four percent it would generate roughly $800 million over the next ten years. A meals tax requires a voter referendum. 2) a Property Tax Increase – raising the rate by four cents would bring in more than one billion dollars over the next ten years. 3) General Obligation Bonds totaling $220 million, or $22 million per year, could be passed. 4) Enacting $1.5 billion in various fees which were originally part of the 2007 state transportation plan. (Those fees were struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court because they were to be enacted by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority instead of the General Assembly or local governments.) These fees could include a congestion relief fee, increased annual vehicle registration fee, two percent rental car fee, and a five percent sales and use tax on motor vehicle repairs. All would require General Assembly approval to be implemented.
Another option is Congestion Tolling (imposing rush hour-only tolls on
major roads). This would also require state approval, but conceivably
could raise $1 billion or more over ten years.
Regarding whether the County should seek to assume responsibility for
secondary roads (neighborhood streets and non-interstate roads with route
numbers over 600, such as Braddock Road), the staff recommendations will
likely include the County taking additional responsibility in four areas:
Planning – system planning, modeling, forecasting; Operations – traffic
signals, sign structures, pavement markings; Construction – design, land
acquisition, building; and Maintenance – snow removal, dead animal
removal, pothole repair. From maintaining the status quo to fully taking
over each of these four areas, there are countless combinations from
which the County could choose. Obviously, each iteration will come with
its own price tag, making identifying the costs of each function a
crucially important part of the study. The state would contribute funds
toward such an effort, but additional county funds would likely be
required to raise service to acceptable levels.
None of these options are particularly appealing. However, without
funding we can not build any new roads or even improve existing ones. The
State has eliminated construction funding for secondary roads and
significantly reduced maintenance funding. Fairfax County is expected to
gain 250,000 new residents in the next thirty years and despite our mass
transit improvements, many will still drive cars. Without improving our
transportation infrastructure, congestion will begin to harm our economy,
not to mention the time it takes out of our lives.
This is not a situation I take lightly, as its effects will reverberate many years into the future. We are in a deep recession and after years of increases in county spending, we need to be decreasing spending, not increasing taxes. I am closely examining this issue and look forward to reading County Staff’s completed study. I also welcome your input in the months ahead. You may email any comments to me at email@example.com. I will continue to provide more information on these issues in the coming months.