Residents of Fairfax and Arlington counties overwhelmingly approved ballot measures yesterday that will raise nearly $200 million for transportation projects, most of which will go toward fixing chronic problems on Metro.
With a majority of votes tallied, Fairfax residents also voted for bond proposals that will raise tens of millions of dollars for libraries, parks and human services facilities.
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Arlington voters also approved bond proposals for parks and schools in complete but unofficial results. Loudoun County residents favored bonds for schools and community facilities in nearly complete returns. In Fairfax City, voters approved bonds for school upgrades by a large margin with nearly all votes counted.
At the polls, Fairfax voters who could agree on little else expressed a desire for all of the bond measures -- especially the ones for transportation.
Lori Mandable, 33, and her husband, Terrence, 34, canceled each other out on the presidential vote -- she went for Bush and he for Kerry -- but the Clifton couple said they were both strong supporters of the bond sales.
"I have a long commute," explained Terrence Mandable, a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, who sometimes slogs more than an hour from home to his Tysons Corner office.
The transportation measure in Fairfax will translate into $110 million for Metro, money that will go toward fixing an aging system that is beset by breakdowns, crowding and delays. It also includes $50 million for intersection improvements, road widenings and other such projects, plus $5 million for pedestrian enhancements. The proposal in Arlington will raise $18.5 million for Metro and $10.2 million for other transportation initiatives.
"The overwhelming number of citizens get it -- our future is with Metro," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who championed the transportation measure.
Joe Madden, 35, said he considers himself a fiscal conservative but was happy to vote for all of Arlington's bond initiatives. "We still have a way to go on transportation, and the schools need to be well funded," said Madden, a 10-year resident of Fairlington. "I don't mind voting for more money if the money is well spent."
State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax), who led a campaign against the Fairfax transportation initiative, said that despite the results, "the idea was to get the discussion going. We tried to plant the notion in people's minds that handing money over to Metro from the county is an extraordinary waste of money if you don't get assurances there will be an efficient use of it or change in management."
While virtually everyone agreed that significant amounts of new money are needed to address chronic problems in Northern Virginia's transportation network, a group of anti-tax Republicans including Cuccinelli opposed the measures because almost all of the money was slated for Metro.
Thus, the bond proposal and the campaign against it comprised the latest chapter in a debate over whether the region's transportation priority should be roads or rail. Limited funding in Virginia and Maryland has often forced leaders to choose between upgrading roads and renovating a Metro system predicted to rapidly deteriorate without major investment.
Unless there is a significant increase in federal, state and local money, Metro general manager Richard A. White said in April, the regional train and bus system will enter a "death spiral" of declining service and lost ridership.
Opponents of the bond issue argued that voters shouldn't send tens of millions of dollars to a system that is mismanaged and that suffers nearly daily malfunctions and embarrassments.
Some opponents also said they would prefer a series of roads that they say would be a more efficient use of taxpayer funds.
Many of those opposed to the ballot measure also helped defeat a regional proposal two years ago that would have raised sales taxes to pay for $5 billion in Northern Virginia road and rail projects over 20 years. But their coalition was far less cohesive this time around.
Proponents of the measure agreed that Metro faces serious problems but said an infusion of money was the way to address them. They also argued that Metro is a vital link in the region's transportation network and that no amount of new roads could handle the 700,000 people who ride the rails every weekday. And they noted that funding was critical for plans to extend a rail line through Tysons Corner and Reston, eventually reaching Dulles International Airport.
Cheryl Cort, executive director of the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities, one of several smart-growth groups that endorsed the transportation initiatives, said in a statement that "we all see that Metro is suffering from aging and growing pains" and that raising new money is the solution.