July 25, 2002
Efforts to stop the carnage on Richmond Highway got a financial boost Monday due to a combined appeal from Fairfax County Supervisors Dana Kauffman, Lee District, and Gerald W. Hyland, Mount Vernon District.
As a joint Board matter, presented by the two elected officials to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Kauffman and Hyland requested that the remaining balances in their FY 2002 Lee District and Mount Vernon office budgets be transferred to County Fund 307, Sidewalk Construction. These funds could then be appropriated to projects for pedestrian safety along the Richmond Highway.
In making their case for the transfer of the funds, Kauffman and Hyland pointed out, "Over the past seven months, we have seen the tragic deaths of six people and the injuring of many more. The corridor lacks adequate sidewalks, and needs more effective signage to protect our citizens."
They further noted, "Earlier today, this Board took action to implement a pedestrian safety program and pedestrian improvement plan to begin addressing such significant safety issues countywide." Their joint proposal to redirect the five percent realized by tight control of their office budgets was an effort, "to further assist these efforts along what has proven to be the County's most dangerous corridor."
SUPPORTING THEIR appeal were letters from Captain Shawn Barrett, Commander of the Mount Vernon Police Station and David J. Lyons, Director, Safe Crossing Campaign. "Both the Mount Vernon police and the citizen-led Safe Crossing Campaign have been instrumental in promoting pedestrian safety along the highway corridor," Hyland and Kauffman specified.
"At the end of every fiscal year excess funds are returned to the General Fund. We have worked very hard to save money in our office this year and we wanted to earmark those savings specifically for efforts to improve safety along Route 1," said Jeffery C. McKay, Chief of Staff in Kauffman's office.
"This request by Dana and Gerry will be brought up as an item in the budget carry-over session which usually occurs in early fall," McKay explained. "We're not asking the Board to appropriate any new monies here, just direct these funds for this purpose." The overall savings totals an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 for both offices.
"We're attempting to set aside these dollars to accomplish things for our districts which can be done immediately. As an example the attaching of signs to the poles with electronic crossing signals explaining what the signals are saying," Kauffman said.
"One of the most repeated calls to Dr.Gridlock are questions pertaining to the electronically timed crossing signals. People don't seem to understand what the red hand means when it appears. The signs would attempt to explain this," he elaborated.
MCKAY NOTED however, the unprecedented request by Kauffman and Hyland does have "policy ramifications." This was verified by Hyland. "There were members of the Board who were not happy with us trying to direct these funds," he said.
"There were those who felt it was setting a bad precedent. It got into a whole discussion of what if others wanted to do this, what if no monies were left over some years, and what about other individualized district projects? I think it's a good thing if supervisors, with excess funds, earmark them for projects in their district," Hyland emphasized.
"The other alternative was for Dana and I to just ask for a given amount of dollars to fund these projects. We felt it made more sense to do it this way. If it bothers them, then just give us the money to get these projects done," Hyland said.
But, he acknowledged that it still had to be approved at the budget carry-over session. "My office has saved $35,000 from the recently completed fiscal year. We need six votes on the Board to get this done. We'll see," he said.
IN HIS MEMO to Kauffman dated July 17, Barrett stated, "The Richmond Highway corridor has been the scene of numerous pedestrian accidents. From January 2000 through March 2002, 118 pedestrians have been injured and six pedestrians have been killed."
He further noted, "Richmond Highway has existed for decades with few pedestrian improvements and most of the highway lacks sidewalks, shoulders, crosswalks, and traffic islands." Barrett also attributed the unsafe conditions to "the adverse impact of the Fort Belvoir Road closings, the increased population and commercial growth, and a lack of adequate road engineering improvements."
But according to Barrett, "statistics show a significant amount of pedestrian accidents are attributed to pedestrian error. During Operation Safe Corridor, 265 pedestrians were cited for the improper crossing. A total of 2,132 warnings and 3,280 summonses were issued for various vehicular, driving, and pedestrian violations" during the month long crack down on Route 1 in March.
"The Mount Vernon Station will continue to do everything possible to promote pedestrian safety and awareness," but, "I would welcome any additional funding that could be used for pedestrian improvements," Barrett emphasized. "This combined commitment will attribute to preventing the tragic and needless loss of life in the Mount Vernon District."
Lyons also went on record in a letter to Kauffman, dated July 19, stating, "The members of Safe Crossing Campaign fully support your effort, in conjunction with Supervisor Gerald Hyland, to dedicate the five percent budget savings pared in recent cuts in your respective offices ... to be used for the purpose of enhancing pedestrian safety on the Richmond Highway corridor."
STRENGTHENING his support, Lyons pointed out, "In the last three weeks, three pedestrians have been struck, one of them a seven-year-old boy who was critically injured. Every day is a series of near death experiences for citizens dependent on public transportation.
"The action you propose is exactly the sort of response required, not just to fund specific items but to demonstrate that the Board is responsive to the crucial needs of all the citizens of the County. Dedicating these budget monies to Richmond Highway pedestrian safety projects is just a first step, but it is the most important one."
In praising the efforts of Kauffman and Hyland to isolate these funds for improvements to the Richmond Highway corridor, Lyons emphasized, "We want to take a comprehensive look at the whole highway, not just segments. It also has to be tied to an in-depth education program."
It's now up to the Board of Supervisors and their decision when dealing with the budget carry-over action in September. As Hyland summarized it, "We'll see."