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 I will continue to provide more information on these issues in the coming months.

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