Neighborhood Roads May Need Local Fix

From unfilled potholes to uncut grass, state government is not adequately addressing even our most basic transportation needs. And as the state’s ability to fund transportation continues to decline, the outlook for Fairfax will remain bleak unless we adapt to the current reality.

Fixing potholes is a quintessential local government function, except in Virginia, where the state, not the county, owns, constructs and maintains secondary (non-interstate) roads. The potholes the state did fill, received a temporary fix. The only permanent solution for potholes is repaving, and VDOT has announced it will do no repaving on secondary roads this year, and probably none next year as well. And now the grass is growing. Just like with potholes, while some is cut, much is not and VDOT has announced it is reducing service here as well. Braddock Road will receive the same three mowings this year as last - though until recently it was mowed six times a year. Guinea, Ravensworth, Olley and other less traveled roads will receive only two. This is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, there is more. At its May 25th meeting, our Board “approved” (we didn’t want to) VDOT’s six-year secondary construction plan for fiscal years 2011 through 2016. This is the standard planning document we approve every year. In it, you will find that the state is effectively zeroing out funding for secondary (non-interstate) road construction. Just $1,989 will be available for the next six years. This is a $1,441,772 decrease, or a decrease of 99 percent from last year’s plan, which was a dramatic deviation from historical norms. Up until two years ago, Fairfax averaged $20 to $25 million a year for secondary road construction.

“Construction” funding doesn’t just mean new roads. It also includes items like traffic signals, left or right turn lanes, additional travel lanes, etc. By zeroing out funding, the state is saying Fairfax will not see any more traffic lights unless part of a federally-funded project, an interstate project such as the HOT lanes or paid for by the county. Also gone are funds to implement traffic calming measures in our neighborhoods.
State transportation funding is a complicated formula-driven and political issue, where the “Northern Virginia – rest of Virginia” divide really hurts us. Our state delegation has tried hard to address it. Even if we can get some funding headed this way, it’s going to go to the large transportation projects in major corridors.

That’s why I believe we need to have a robust discussion as to whether Fairfax County should play a larger role in transportation – maybe even negotiate with the state to take over responsibility for secondary roads in exchange for a state payment. It is a complex idea, one with positives and negatives, but one that needs to be fleshed out. Any plan would likely mean more local funding, but it would also mean cut grass, plowed snow, filled potholes and more road improvements.

I’d like to hear from you on this matter. What do you think of the county taking a more active role in transportation? If we did, where should our efforts be concentrated? Please email me at braddock with your opinions, I look forward to reading them.  

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