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Votes

New Authority's First Job: Get Referendum to Pass

They don’t know yet, but they’re hoping to have $5 billion to spend.

Members of the new Northern Virginia Transportation Authority gathered for the first time at the Falls Church Community Center on July 18, and already some of the different approaches to transportation issues were in evidence.

Christopher Zimmerman, Chair of the Arlington County, proposed that at least 50 percent of the discretionary funds be dedicated to public transit.

"I think to the extent that we're asking people to tax themselves, we need some ability to give them some assurances about how this is all going to fall out," he said.

Del. John Rollison (R-52) questioned the need to earmark all the discretionary funds at the authority's first meeting.

"It just seems to me that it defeats the purpose," he said. "I'm concerned that if that's the direction this is going to go in we don't have to have too many of these meetings."

Rollison also expressed the worry that his constituents in the outer suburbs were less likely to benefit from the public transit projects proposed by Zimmerman than were Zimmerman's own Arlington constituents.

Zimmerman's proposal was tabled until the next meeting.

<b>THE NVTA</b> was created earlier this year by the General Assembly to manage the region's transportation needs. Members will decide how to spend about $5 billion over 20 years on transportation improvements if the proposed sales tax referendum passes in November. Voters will decide at the polls whether they want to pay an additional half cent in sales tax to fund a long list of projects. The authority will decide what gets funded first.

Elected officials from all Northern Virginia jurisdictions as well as representatives from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and gubernatorial appointees will sit on the authority.

Del. Vince Callahan (R-34) said one of the first priorities of the NVTA should be to make sure the sales tax referendum is approved by the voters.

"If it doesn't, we're wasting our time here today," he said.

Half of the money generated by the referendum would go to road and transit projects that have already been designated. The other half, approximately $2.5 billion, would be used for projects as they come up before the authority.

J. Kenneth Klinge, the chairman of the Dulles Corridor Task Force who was appointed by Gov. Mark Warner, was elected chairman of the group. He said the NVTA would strive to take a regional focus.

"THE GUIDING PRINCIPLE is the hope that we would act regionally and not as representatives of one particular constituency or one particular locality," said state Sen. William Mims (R-33).

Voting in the NVTA will be weighted according to population. Members representing more populated jurisdictions will have more power than those representing smaller jurisdictions.