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Frey Discusses Budget, Transportation

Discusses transportation, budget at WFCCA quarterly meeting.

The just-begun legislative session, the state and county budgets and transportation were the items uppermost in the mind of Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), Monday night, as his gave his annual "State of Sully" report.

SPEAKING AT the quarterly meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA), he said it's anyone's guess what will come out of Richmond by the session's end.

"I always tell people, 'If you can predict what the General Assembly will do, you ought to get into real estate or the stock market,'" said Frey. "So I wouldn't attempt to predict, other than to say that transportation is the big issue."

There are ongoing discussions between the House and Senate, he said, and "it appears that they're going to settle on some fee increases and bond issues. But whether they'll be state- or region-specific is not yet known."

At least, said Frey, the legislature finally has some urgency about the issue of transportation funding. And gridlock has gotten so bad here and in the Hampton Roads area, he said, that "it seems that people are ready to throw up their hands and get rid of all the incumbents" if something isn't done about it.

Here in Fairfax County, he said, "We're at a crisis point in secondary-road funding. Secondary roads have numbers of 600 or higher, such as West Ox, Centreville and Braddock roads. Five years ago, we predicted we'd get $35 million [from the state for them] this year. [Instead], we're getting $18 million, and it's projected to drop to $15 million in three years."

The cost to widen less than two miles of Stringfellow Road from two to four lanes is between $40 million and $46 million. But the way things are going, said Frey, "It would take us 2 1/2 years to get that kind of money from the state. So it's ridiculous to think we won't be suffering if we don't get any more funding for it."

IN RESPONSE to situations like this, he said the county Board of Supervisors plans to have a bond of $100 million to $110 million on the ballot this November for transportation. "We're looking at replacing the state dollars with local bond money, and there's a staff recommendation that includes that," said Frey.

Doing so would enable projects such as Stringfellow Road to be done with county dollars — and quicker and cheaper than if state or federal funds were used. If federal money were used for Stringfellow, said Frey, "It's likely that, under federal environmental standards, Stringfellow would be lined with soundwalls — which would be ugly and expensive."

About $5 million will go toward widening Poplar Tree Road between Braddock and the Safeway on Westfields Boulevard. Frey said these dollars will come from the Centreville Road Fund to which developers have contributed.

"We've already used it to do some preliminary surveying and engineering," he said. "So we'd put bond money into [this project] this year for design, so we'd be ready for construction in early summer 2008."

Regarding growth control, Frey said that, for years, many counties have tried to gain control of their own growth, but the General Assembly has denied them this power. So, he said, under state law, Fairfax County can't reject a rezoning because of inadequate infrastructure.

However, he believes it might be beneficial for the county to take control of the construction, operation and maintenance of its secondary roads if certain conditions were met. "We'd have to keep some of our revenue that presently goes to Richmond and keep some of our equipment — such as snowplows and pavers — that we paid for and VDOT has," explained Frey. "I think it's worth pursuing or, at least, discussing."

AS FOR BUSES, he said Centreville and Chantilly's number 12 and 20 bus routes should be changed from Metro into Connector routes because it's more cost-effective for the county to operate them. Noting that a new, county bus garage will be constructed as part of the public safety complex on West Ox Road, he said the garage should be completed in early summer 2008.

"So the Board, a few months ago, took the step of converting this from Metro to Connector service," said Frey. "My goal will be to take the savings we'll accrue [from this shift] and add expanded bus service out here for north-south routes."

He said all the current bus routes go to Vienna, but local residents need routes going up and down Centreville Road and Route 28 and to get people into job sites in Reston and Herndon. Said Frey: "Nearly 60 percent of the people who work in Fairfax County live here, and now we need to provide transportation for them, too."

The county budget will be unveiled, the third week in February, but Frey said residents won't see the huge real-estate assessments they've had in recent years. "The real-estate market has cooled," he said. "Houses are staying on the market longer and prices have dropped slightly."

It means less revenue and more belt-tightening for the county, he said, "which isn't a bad thing. I've voted against the budget in the past because I believe we haven't returned as much to the taxpayers [as we could], because of our spending."

He said commercial real estate is still strong here, and commercial office-vacancy rates are well under 10 percent. And with the war in Iraq still going on, he said, defense money will still be spent in Fairfax County for the next couple years.

FREY SAID the county needs to continue focusing on education and public safety, but he was unhappy to learn last week that Fairfax County may get less money for public safety from the state than it anticipated. Instead of receiving the $1.9 million increase it expected, it will only get a hike of $600,000.

"We continue to get the shaft from the state on the transportation and education funding formulas, and now we'll also get the shaft on the public-safety funding formula," he said. "And that's why we're raising such a stink — because they continue to give our money to other areas of the state that they deem need it more. But when we say we need something, they say we're just whining."