Voters to Decide on Road Funding

Voters to Decide on Road Funding

Bond could generate $165 million for transportation improvements, but would that help?

Transportation — or the lack of it — is one of the most discussed problems in the Washington region. On Nov. 2 Fairfax County voters will have the chance to pass a $165 million bond that would be used for transportation projects.

County voters will consider four separate bond referendums totaling $325 million. Each of the four will pass or fail independently of the others. The transportation bond is for $165 million.

The business community considers the transportation bond as an important opportunity to help congestion. "The transportation network in this region is not nearly enough," said Tony Howard, communications director for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "The commonwealth of Virginia has done an exceedingly poor job of meeting its commitments."

The Chamber has long viewed quality of life as one of its top issues, and traffic is one of the largest negatives in the region on that quality.

Of the bond total, Metro would receive $110 million to purchase items like rail cars and buses, and $5 million would be used for pedestrian improvements.

The funding that goes to Metro upsets Arthur Purves of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. He said that Metro has a $1.5 billion shortfall in its capital funding and questioned how much Fairfax County residents should give toward that. "How much of it goes to the shortfall?" Purves asked

Howard pointed out that the county, like other jurisdictions in the region, has an obligation to help support Metro. "They don't have the funding to do the job they've been given," Howard said. "It needs an infusion."

THE REMAINING $50 million will be used to implement the Board of Supervisor's transportation plan. The Board will leverage its plan with funds it hopes to get from the state and federal governments, said Charlie Strunk, chief of the Capital Projects Section for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

This funding also has Purves concerned. He does not think that the county ever gets enough funding from bonds. "It is a pittance. It is a show. It is a Band-Aid. You are better off rejecting the bond and forcing the supervisors to cut some of these social programs," he said.

Howard said that it is the supervisors who are to be commended for picking up the transportation funding that he said should be the state's responsibility. "They [the state government] have abdicated that responsibility. The Board of Supervisors should be applauded."

The Board of Supervisors decided that the projects to be funded by the bond would need to be implemented quickly. "These things have to be complete within four years," Strunk said.

If the bond does not pass, Strunk said, the projects will have to wait for the annual appropriations from the county budget. "Some of the smaller ones will just go away," Strunk said.

The Vienna area has one of the major projects to be funded by the bond — improvements to the intersection of Lee Highway (Route 29) and Gallows Road. "The intersection technically operates beyond Level of Service 'F,'" Strunk said.

Letter grades, similar to report card grades, can be given to roads and intersections based on how freely the traffic can flow.

The intersection will remain at-grade, so no overpass will be built.

The project would involve widening both of the lanes from four to six lanes. Lee highway would be widened from the Beltway to Merrilee Drive, and Gallows would be widened between Providence Forest Drive and Gatehouse Road.

The goal would be to increase the speed that motorists could pass through the intersection. In order to go through the intersection during rush hours, "it could take you three or four signal cycles," Strunk said. "We want to get that down to one signal cycle."

Once construction starts, Strunk estimated that it would take approximately two years to complete. However, he does not expect the construction to start before 2009. Projects of this size, he explained, require a lot of land acquisition, and the time for that is difficult to predict.

Even though the project would not be completed within the four years allotted by the Board, work could get under way.