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Tentative Accord on Route 28 Funding

Not willing to let the Route 28 interchange project fall through, Fairfax and Loudoun counties are putting their dollars on the table. They're saying that, if need be, each county would back up the Route 28 landowners' financing for this venture with $45 million.

"The Boards of Supervisors have not blessed the Route 28 agreement yet, but the county executives have," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "We'll deal with it next Monday [April 29], and the Loudoun Board, I think, the following Monday."

Because of monetary, air-quality and insurance concerns, what was initially intended as a 10-interchange, eight-lane project has now been scaled back to six interchanges and six lanes — at least for the forseeable future.

Shirley Contracting Corp. and The Clark Construction Group entered into a public/private partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to do the road project. Work along the 14 miles between I-66 in Centreville and Route 7 in Loudoun County was to be completed in 2005. The result would be eight lanes total on Route 28.

In Fairfax County, full cloverleaf interchanges were proposed for Westfields Boulevard and Willard and Barnsfield roads, with trumpet-shaped interchanges planned for McLearen and Frying Pan roads. (Barnsfield will connect Route 28 to and from the new National Air and Space Museum Annex).

But until the region meets federal air-quality standards, Route 28 will remain six lanes, and just six of the interchanges — Barnsfield, Westfields, McLearen, Routes 625 and 606 and the CIT exit — will be constructed.

The Route 28 Tax District is to pay 75 percent of the cost, and VDOT, 25 percent. The project was to have cost $305 million. But the bond agency only gave the tax district a low-investment grade bond rating. That meant the interest payments would be higher and the landowners would have to pay even more money for the work.

To resolve this dilemma, both Fairfax and Loudoun are now morally obligating themselves to pick up the tab on some of the bonds that will be issued, in case there's a shortfall in the debt service. The lower the counties can get the interest rate, the more project can be done.

New money to be pumped into the project would come from three sources:

* About $90 million would be split between Fairfax and Loudoun.

* The state would chip in the $70 million it already allocated to the Route 28 Corridor from Primary Road funds.

* Some $35 million would come from bonds previously authorized for this project by the state, but never issued.

"The state agreed to refinance the existing debt on the Route 28 project, which frees up annual debt service because the refinanced rate would be significantly lower than the current rate," explained Frey. "That money — plus the debt that the counties would issue — would pay the debt service."

He said things would be structured so that the first couple years' payments would go into a reserve fund to insure that — in the event of a downturn — debt service would be covered.

Fairfax County staff assumed 2 1/2-percent growth in the Tax District to anticipate how much revenue the district would generate and how much debt the county could leverage with that revenue. Frey said it's sufficient to pay off both the new debt and the refinanced debt.

"That 2 1/2 percent assumes new development in the Corridor over the next 30 years, plus inflation," he said. "Given the ups and downs of the economy, I think that's reasonable."