Residents Rate Government High, Despite Traffic

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007

Nearly 90 percent of Prince William residents are satisfied with the county's services and about 64 percent said county government could be trusted, an improvement over last year, according to a 2007 survey by the University of Virginia's Center for Survey Research.

But the hot-button cause of the moment was a non-factor. Issues involving illegal immigration did not rate high among those surveyed, said Thomas M. Guterbock, the center's director. Only 3 percent said they would like changes regarding illegal immigration in the next 20 to 25 years.

"I'm surprised, given the headlines," said Guterbock, who added that the survey was taken between May and July, before the county proposed a resolution to limit services to illegal immigrants and to strengthen enforcement of residency status.

Instead, residents told researchers that their quality of life rated a 7.18 out of 10 -- a slight uptick from 1993, when the annual telephone survey was first conducted and residents rated their quality of life at 6.9, Guterbock said. Resident satisfaction has been relatively flat since.

Transportation in and around the county moved up from fourth to second place as a priority for county residents. Nearly 42 percent said they would like less traffic in 20 to 25 years. More than one-quarter said they would like better roads and public transportation within the same time frame.

The year the county received the highest satisfaction rating on ease of travel, 69.3 percent, was 1998, when the Prince William Parkway opened.

This year, less than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied, but in the past two years that number has come back up from a low of 38.1 percent in 2005, said Guterbock.

In areas where there have been visible changes in traffic, such as the widening of Interstate 66 near the Manassas Battlefield, satisfaction jumped from 22.2 percent last year to 39.8 percent.

"People still aren't happy with the traffic, but you are making some people happier," Guterbock said.

The average commute for Prince William County workers is 42.3 minutes. That changed minimally from 2003, when the average commute was 39.4 minutes, the report stated.

"The ease of getting around in Prince William County," an area in which satisfaction increased by seven percentage points from last year, "is probably the thing this board can be the most heartened by. That has seemed to be a stubborn number that was declining and declining and declining," said Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, who credited county and taxpayer investment in new roads for the improvement.

There were slight changes in the public's views on how to tax and where to spend, said Guterbock. About 63 percent of those surveyed said the county should stay where it is when it comes to services and taxation.

About 14 percent of residents said they would like an increase in services and taxes, whereas 9.6 percent wanted a decrease. "In prior years there has been more of a balance between increase and decrease," Guterbock said.

The survey of nearly 1,300 households, evenly distributed throughout the county, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent. The survey, which costs Prince William about $61,000 annually, is used to measure performance, said County Executive Craig S. Gerhart.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company