With the failing of the sales tax bond referendum last week, a few of Loudoun’s proposed transportation projects are at a standstill.
“The needs haven’t changed, but the funding source has not materialized. That means we have to work doubly hard to find how we can solve the transportation issues facing the county,” said John Clark, director of the Office of Transportation Services.
Projects that would have been funded through the half-cent sales tax – expected to raise $5 billion in 20 years – will be delayed, Clark said. The projects are in addition to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year transportation plan for Northern Virginia and, in Loudoun, include improvements on Route 7, Route 28, Loudoun County and Tri-County parkways, Route 659 and secondary roads, together costing nearly $200 million, with an additional $63-80 million provided for the Dulles Corridor Transit project.
“There will be some projects we can’t even consider because of lack of funding,” Clark said.
Leonard “Hobie” Mitchel agreed. “None of these improvements will be done until there’s a change done by local referendum or a source of funding from Richmond,” said Mitchel, member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. “For today, we have to live with what we have unless anyone has a better idea. There is no magic pot of money. … The transportation improvements are not free, so we have to figure out a mechanism to improve transportation in Loudoun County and regionally.”
THE DULLES CORRIDOR Transit project will not be affected by the referendum failure, though the $350 million that would have been raised through the sales tax will have to come from another source, Mitchel said. The Route 28 project, which involves building 10 interchanges and adding a lane to the roadway, also will not be halted. Loudoun’s share from the tax for Route 28 would have been $25 million.
“If you look at how badly the sales tax failed and how well the state bonds passed, the message is not that Northern Virginians don’t want to raise revenue. The message is the sales tax and the authority [governing its use] are not an optimal arrangement,” said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), adding that the sales tax failed for several other reasons. The sales tax was administered under a “fuzzy” set of rules and lacked a sunset clause, while the projects it funded did not have to comply with individual land use plans in Northern Virginia counties, he said.
“The region needs to do a better job of land use planning and growth management. What we need to do is continue to march forward with our efforts and adopt our zoning ordinances,” said Chairman Scott York (R-At Large).
York hopes Northern Virginian leaders will work together and with leaders from Hampton Roads to change the funding formulas in Richmond, so that the counties would receive their “fair share” from income taxes and other taxes administered through the state, he said. As the county grows and personal income increases, the amount of income taxes returned to the county decreases, putting a burden on local government.
“Fiscally, we’ve been punished by the state for growing,” York said. “We get less back but our infrastructure needs are greater.”
The Board of Supervisors will have to discuss the projects at future board meetings, York said. “If the improvements are going to be done, we’re going to have to find the mechanism to make that happen,” he said.
THE PROJECTS cannot move forward unless the county or the legislature raises the revenue, Harris said. “It’s amazing some of our delegates didn’t understand there’s a relationship between taxes and services,” he said. “At some point, we’ll get representation at the state level that understands transportation is important to Northern Virginia’s economy. In the meantime, we’ve got what we got.”
Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) sees the matter differently. “In my opinion, none of those road projects would have been built unless offsets were found to counteract increases in emissions,” he said about the Clean Air Act’s emission limits. “Like Loudoun County, the region will have to follow land use plans … and concentrate future development around transportation modes. We are finally at that point elected officials will have to deal with that. The days of buying in the country and commuting to work, those days are past.”