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Column: State Shirks Transportation Responsibility

Maybe we should rename our County The Bank of Last Resort. At our Board of Supervisors retreat in early February, board members and staff discussed the tools available to local government to narrow the chasm between growing needs and shrinking resources. As the state and federal governments continue to slash programs and funds to localities, the needs in areas like human services, education, public safety, and transportation continue to grow.

Fairfax County is at ground zero in all these areas. We’re home to a growing population of seniors in need of basic services; our top notch schools are growing fast; and our first responders keep our community safe despite being asked to do more with less.

The current debate over transportation responsibilities is instructive. The Commonwealth of Virginia has primary transportation responsibilities that go back to the years of the Great Depression when the state took on all public road maintenance and construction for all counties except for Arlington and Henrico. In recent years, we’ve seen the fraying of this traditional responsibility and core function of state government as the state’s failure to act has left many of our most well-traveled roads in deplorable condition. Saying, "Can’t afford it anymore, it’s your problem" seems to be the General Assembly’s solution. That’s not reasonable and it’s certainly not responsible governance.

The current proposals in the General Assembly are either devolution-lite or the camel’s nose under the tent. Either way, they amount to an abdication of the state’s moral and legal responsibility to maintain our roads. Any effort by the state that does not result in a long-term dedicated revenue stream is a decision to sidestep our transportation challenges. Fairfax County should not be forced to choose between its citizens’ important needs simply because the state government is looking to take the easy way out. And keep in mind — as Fairfax County’s fortunes go, so goes the Commonwealth. Our economic vitality supports and funds the rest of the state. A crumbling transportation infrastructure here will ultimately show up on the wrong side of the ledger downstate.

As elected leaders, we have the responsibility to listen and respond to the needs of our constituents. Time after time we hear that transportation is one of our residents’ top concerns and key to our economic fortunes. Fairfax County has a creative and solutions-oriented local government. We believe that our transportation problems can be solved. Identifying a dedicated transportation revenue stream is the first and most important step in finding that solution and we ask that the Governor and the General Assembly meet their responsibility and identify that stream.