Local Road Projects Delayed
Va. Budget Cuts Force Counties to Scale Back
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2004; Page B01
Construction on more than a half-dozen heavily traveled local routes in Northern Virginia has been delayed by suburban governments left with little choice but to put off the projects after state officials significantly reduced money for secondary roads.
The cuts, part of a more than $1 billion slashing of the state's transportation program, include heavily traveled commuter and neighborhood routes in the inner suburbs and connectors to new communities in the outer counties. Among them are widenings of Telegraph, Rolling and Centreville roads in Fairfax County, Linton Hall Road in Prince William County and Belmont Ridge Road in Loudoun County and the refurbishing of a bridge in Arlington County.
Local leaders acted after the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a six-year plan in June that pared secondary road budgets by nearly a quarter. Overall, the board adopted a $6.3 billion plan, compared with $7.4 billion last year, that left little money for new construction projects, big or small.
The cuts have already forced the delay of a long-planned link through the Springfield interchange between future carpool lanes on the Capital Beltway and those on Interstate 95; improvements to the Beltway-Interstate 66 interchange; the widening of Route 50 in Loudoun County; and the rehabilitation of two crumbling bridges in Arlington County.
The budget for the Virginia Department of Transportation has stagnated, and officials at the agency have taken to referring to themselves as more of a maintenance organization than a construction one.
This year's cuts were particularly damning to transportation advocates, given that state leaders are raising taxes to generate $1.5 billion in new revenue over two years while assigning barely a sliver of it to road and rail projects. What's more, the action was taken after lawmakers dropped a proposal to add $1.8 billion for transportation over two years.
Some localities say they have no choice but to take on the burden themselves. Fairfax County voters will consider a $165 million transportation bond measure in November that would include $50 million for county roads, and Prince William County officials say they are considering a bond proposal in 2006, a year ahead of their plans. Prince William leaders have also turned to private firms to build some roads.
"The future looks mighty gloomy," said Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R). "I think the state needs to reexamine its whole system of funding and prioritizing these transportation projects. Every day, the state seems to be getting further and further behind."
The projects that Fairfax County is now further behind on include widening Telegraph Road between South Kings Highway and Hayfield Road and between Beulah Street and Hayfield. The county also opted to delay widening Centreville Road between West Ox Road and Frying Pan Road by six months; Rolling Road between Old Keene Mill Road and Hunter Village Drive by two years; Stringfellow Road between Route 50 and Fair Lakes Boulevard by two years; and Popes Head Road between O'Faly Road and Lewisham Road for an undetermined time.
The secondary road programs in Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties are almost completely consumed by single projects, all of which have been delayed or diminished.
Loudoun leaders hope to someday widen two-lane Belmont Ridge Road to six lanes from north of Route 7 to Route 50, but the cuts have forced them to further delay plans to widen it to four lanes.
Prince William officials are bemoaning the loss of funds for a critical stretch of Linton Hall Road, a mostly two-lane country road that is overcome every morning and evening by the tens of thousands of new residents who live off it.
The tale is similar in Arlington County, where plans to repair a bridge on Washington Boulevard over Columbia Pike have been pushed back by at least a year.
"I'm hoping it happens one day," said Arlington County Board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D). "We really do need the state to step up to the plate on transportation infrastructure."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company