Thirty years from now, the metropolitan Washington region is expected to have 33 percent more residents, but the capacities of the area’s roads and trains are only expected to increase by about 16 percent, according to data presented at an Oct. 25 Braddock town meeting about growth in the district.
Population, housing and employment statistics and Washington metropolitan transportation predictions were the major topics of the first of three Braddock Tomorrow meetings hosted by Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), Wednesday, Oct. 25. The meetings are a “visioning exercise,” said Bulova, to allow county officials and residents to look back and ahead to determine the future of Fairfax County’s growth. At the end of the third meeting, attendees that have been to at least two of the meetings will vote on a community statement about the vision of the Braddock District and the county’s future.
“People are uncomfortable with change, unless they’re a part of it and they’re engaged. Then they’re excited about it,” said Bulova. “That’s what I’ve learned [throughout years in office].”
The changes county residents are faced with today include shifting attitudes toward city and inner suburban living, said Robert Puentes, a panelist at the meeting from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. The demographic make-up, said Puentes, is becoming extremely complex.
“The same issue is happening all across the country,” said Puentes. “The U.S. is going through a period of dramatic, dramatic change that is unparalleled in the last 100 years.”
That change is coexisting with many other changes in the way Americans live, said Puentes, which is making housing and job markets take different shapes. Suburbs, like Fairfax County, need to plan and rethink attitudes about density, design and diversity, he said. He added that the localities need to take into account all of the changes going on and start making some serious planning decisions for the future, which is exactly why the series of meetings in the Braddock district are taking place.
“We have a great county,” said Bulova. “What we don’t do well is transportation.”
BUT IT ISN'T just Fairfax County that struggles with the transportation problems. David Robertson, executive director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), said more balanced development throughout the region would help ease some of the traffic problems and congestion. Different options for decreasing vehicle miles traveled include transit-oriented development, expanding jobs outward from the city, developing the eastern side of Washington to balance it out with the rest of the region, and changing housing options. By building about 216,000 more households in or close to regional hot spots, Robertson said daily vehicle miles traveled would decrease by 1.3 percent by 2030.
“Even modest changes in vehicle miles traveled will have some significant impacts on our region,” said Robertson.
COG is an organization consisting of 21 local governments that develops employment and population forecasts for the region. Its statistics show that the region will continue its gridlock pattern throughout the next 25 years, even with many of the suggested alternatives in place.
Jerry Gordon, of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said the property tax rate in the county was $1.74 per $100 of assessed value in 1976. Today, it’s $0.89. After taking into account inflation and the increase in the cost of housing, the rate hasn’t really changed at all, he said.
Since the Board of Supervisors likes keeping the tax rate where it is, the only option to get the bills paid is to attract businesses to the area.
“Residents are a drain,” said Gordon. “They give a little, get a lot.”
Businesses use less public services, therefore cost the county less tax dollars, he said. But bringing in the business means bringing in more traffic, something many residents say is too much already. Many want the Virginia General Assembly to start putting up some money.
“We can’t leave transportation off the table any more in Richmond,” said Kevin Morse, a community member who spoke out at the meeting.
The thing that successful suburbs are doing, said Puentes, is working side-by-side. Instead of competing with one another, and trying to place blame or costs on the other, neighboring towns, cities and communities need to “play well together.”
“Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” said Puentes. “We just need to think about it.”
The next two meetings in the series should allow for more brainstorming discussion about transportation and growth in the region.