Will Voters Okay the Cash?

Will Voters Okay the Cash?

Voters Get To Decide Nov. 5

Of the $2.8 billion in transportation projects planned for Northern Virginia and identified for the tax referendum vote this fall, those impacting the City of Alexandria and the Mount Vernon and Lee districts of Fairfax County account for more than one third of the total pot.

Overall, part or all of the monies allocated to nine of the identified 20 projects, as well as those in the general subject categories, fall within portions of the three jurisdictions. They include both highway and mass transit expenditures.

The lion's share is allocated to transportation endeavors which impact the Lee District. They total $825 million. The City of Alexandria and the Mount Vernon District each account for approximately $150 million.

In all cases, except for the projects designated Eisenhower Valley Highway and Transit Improvements and Alexandria Transit Capital and Facilities, which each have assigned bond amounts of $25 million, the identified projects overlap various jurisdictions.

Funds dedicated to mass transit top $400 million while the rest is destined for highways and roads throughout the region. But, the entire scenario rests with the will of the voters, when and if they have the opportunity to approve or disapprove an increase in the sales tax.

WHEN THE VOTERS of Northern Virginia go to the polls on Nov. 5, it is anticipated they will have the option to vote yea or nay on increasing the sales tax from the present four and one half percent to 5 percent. If adopted, the money would be used to fund designated transportation projects throughout Northern Virginia.

But there is speculation that legal action may be taken to prevent the referendum from appearing on the fall ballot. Opponents are raising constitutional questions as to its legitimacy.

If the referendum is authorized, voters, arriving at the polls, will be presented with a list of projects with a dollar amount for each. Some of those will be quite specific, such as new rail cars for VRE, but most will be generalized, such as Eisenhower Valley Highway and Transit Improvement for Alexandria and Route 1 Improvements, which affects the Mount Vernon/Lee districts.

Although, the emphasis on specific priorities and projects differs by jurisdiction, there was unanimity among the three jurisdictions that the referendum was a positive step to addressing the areas interlocking transportation needs. There was also agreement that a comprehensive approach is essential.

"A referendum vote is something I'm used to from my experience in other areas. Alexandria is going to be focusing on transit needs. What Alexandria is going to get is a whole transit expansion," Richard Baier, Director, Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services Administration, said.

"What's important for Alexandrians to realize is that the impact on the city of people who rely on their cars and not transit is tremendous. Duke and Eisenhower are facing an increase of between 52,000 and 90,000 cars per day. Presently, Eisenhower carries 20,000 a day and Duke 50,000 a day," Baier emphasized.

HIS ENTHUSIASM FOR mass transit was echoed by Dana Kauffman, Lee District, Fairfax County Supervisor. "The $100 million allotted for the VRE rail car purchase is desperately needed. VRE ridership is growing at a rate of 17 percent per year," he said.

"But the real significance to enhancing VRE is that it pulls traffic off I-95 before it gets here," Kauffman noted. "This entire referendum proposal is akin to an emergency room treatment. After the initial treatment a lot more care will be necessary."

Vice Chairman of the Fairfax County Supervisors and Mount Vernon District Supervisor, Gerald W. Hyland, saw the $150 million earmarked for Richmond Highway as "a major opportunity for Route 1 to be improved in our life time. It's essential that this referendum pass."

But in order for that to happen, Hyland said, "There is going to have to be a real effort by those for it, and that includes the elected officials," Hyland insisted. "Eight jurisdictions are going to vote and you don't have education linked to transportation which is going to make it that much harder to pass."

Hyland also noted, "You have the no growth, slow growth, and anti-asphalt groups against it. Many people are just against raising the sales tax. Everyone is going to have to work very hard to convince the voters."

HE EXPLAINED THAT his personal preference would have been to have both transportation and education on the ballot. "But you have to get in the que or you don't get anything. You can't stand outside the cafeteria and expect to get something to eat," he said.

"Once again we are being asked to step up to the plate. There are those who say we are letting the state off the hook. And, they are right. But it's not the first time we have done this," Hyland said.

As for raising enough money by increasing the sales tax to actually complete all the projects listed, both Hyland and Kauffman agreed that the referendum was a vital start to tackling the area transportation problems. "To the extent you can get planning, design, and construction money all secured at once is practically impossible," Hyland pointed out.

"There are no major programs to do it all. But, if we don't risk moving ahead we will kill the goose that laid the golden egg," Kauffman warned.

In addition to the VRE rail car enhancement, Kauffman expressed the desire that the proposed I-95/I-395 work, with its $250 million price tag, would also trigger improvements to the Van Dorn Street Interchange. He characterized it as "the forgotten interchange," caught between the mixing bowl and Woodrow Wilson Bridge activities.

He also cited the Fairfax County Parkway project, estimated at $100 million, as a possible way to get "a very needed grade separation" near Green Spring Village. Lee District also shares a vested interest in the Route 1 improvements with the Mount Vernon District.

As for Baier in Alexandria, Route 1 improvements translate to those that apply to transit. They are slated for $75 million.

"We very much need some sort of mass transit travel in and around the Potomac Yard area where three and a half million square feet of development is planned," he said.

"We anticipate that will cause approximately 45,000 new trips per day. We are hoping for some sort of mass transit there, bus, metro, metro stop, or a combination," Baier explained.

The other Alexandria oriented mass transit item on the referendum list is the Alexandria Transit Capital and Facilities item at $25 million. "This would expand DASH facilities to meet regional needs," said Baier.

"The expanded facility would be able to hold 40 more buses and enable us to buy an additional 40 buses. This would bring the fleet to 90 and give us operating capacity for 100 buses," he said.

A MAJOR MIXED package on Alexandria's wish list is the Eisenhower Valley Highway and Transit Improvements project pegged at another $25 million. "Basically, this is the six laning of Eisenhower between Holland Lane and Stovall Street. The PTO project envisioned this from the start," Baier said.

"This money will also provide an opportunity for us to extend the pedestrian platform at the Eisenhower Metro Station. We originally submitted for $50 million. The other $25 million is included under Regional Transit Capital," he clarified.

"Depending on what development scenario you follow, the East Eisenhower Corridor Planning Study projects a 30 percent ridership rate increase for transit. At the very least we need to increase the bus schedules," Baier emphasized.

The identification of specific projects with an attached dollar amount is viewed as a way to appeal to the individual desire of voters throughout the region. The success or failure of that strategy will be tested on Nov. 5... if the referendum makes it on the ballot.