Fairfax County’s transportation needs loomed heavily over a joint meeting of county supervisors and representatives from the Virginia State Senate and General Assembly Tuesday night.
Officials sat down to discuss priorities for the legislature’s fast-approaching 2013 session, and the county’s widely publicized road funding woes—a $3 billion need for road projects and improvements over the next decade—took center stage. The county faces a $300 million per year funding shortfall for the next 10 years.
“I know that we’re all aware Fairfax County and the Commonwealth are facing a transportation crisis,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Fairfax County’s 10-year needs lie in the redevelopment of Tysons Corner, traffic-calming measures as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and transit projects for Dulles Rail and South County.
But nobody is quite sure where the money will come from. The Commonwealth’s Secondary Road Program, from which the county used to get $29 million annually, is dry.
The county currently spends $280 million in local revenues per year on transportation, so Bulova called on the state officials help secure support.
But tidings were grim.
“I honestly don’t expect a transportation bill to pass this session,” said Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th). Nonetheless, Watts said she would prioritize passing a 5 percent wholesale gas tax that could raise $350 million for Northern Virginia.
The Commonwealth’s gas tax hasn’t been adjusted for inflation in 26 years, giving the 17.5 cents per gallon tax a purchasing power of about 7.5 cents per gallon.
Va. Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35th) didn’t think any such tax was going to make it through the session, due in large part to a lack of support from Gov. Bob McDonnell.
“There isn’t going to be any transportation money this year,” Saslaw told the room. “I have not seen any tax increase ever pass the general assembly unless the governor was out in front with it and willing to break arms in order to get the job done. It’s simply not going to pass unless that happens.”
McDonnell announced last week that he too is working on a plan to address Virginia’s transportation problems but offered few concrete details.
Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd) said there would have to be compromises and bipartisan understanding if the General Assembly was going accomplishments anything.
“If want to get something done, you’re going to have to eat something you don’t like,” he said.
Albo said the larger problem was that many parts of the state didn’t need road money.
“The only people who care about roads are in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and a few people in Richmond,” Albo said. “No else in this state gives a hoot about the issue.”
Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) remained optimistic after the meeting, regardless of state officials’ doubts.
“The reality is that attitude doesn’t get us anywhere,” he said. “I’m more optimistic that we’ve got chances. We need a couple of handfuls of votes down [in Richmond]. In my mind, we should never approach this as being insurmountable.”
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