Tax Ruling Hits Belvoir Road Plan

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Virginia Supreme Court decision to block a regional transportation-funding plan effort has left the state without money it had planned to use to improve traffic around Fort Belvoir.

The justices ruled that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority did not have taxing powers, which eliminated expected road and transit funds. Officials are seeking ways to make that up.

In the case of Fort Belvoir, without new money to replace $12.1 million in lost authority funding, the new Mulligan Road, which will run between Route 1 and Telegraph Road, would have to be built initially with two lanes instead of four, transportation officials said. That half-step would waste money and delay much-needed traffic relief, they said.

Mulligan Road is the long-planned replacement for the two-lane Woodlawn Road, which has been closed since Sept. 11, 2001, for security reasons. Mulligan is designed to make it easier to get from one side of the fort to the other, a key transportation priority in the area, which transportation officials said has too few east-west roads. That makes it difficult to travel from Mount Vernon to Springfield, they said.

It is uncertain whether there is another source of money for the road. Fairfax County officials said their transportation-funding plan has been decimated by the court decision and made worse by other state funding cuts triggered by the economic downturn. Fairfax officials were expecting about $150 million a year for transportation projects, said Kathy Ichter, director of the county's Department of Transportation. Now they hope to get $56 million, and even that is not guaranteed, she said. County supervisors would need to approve a commercial and industrial property tax of 12 cents per $100 of assessed value to reach even the reduced figure.

"The court ruling is devastating throughout the county and the region on a lot of different projects. There's just so much pent-up need," Ichter said. Fairfax has been forced to reevaluate its entire transportation plan, she said. "Instead of being a two-year program, it's now a six-year program essentially, since you've cut the program to a third" of its original funding.

Among the authority-funded projects that are being reconsidered are improvements to an interchange in the Fair Lakes area that is rated as failing; expansion of the Fairfax Connector bus service; and the widening of Route 7 near Reston, among others, Ichter said.

Fairfax officials went to the county's congressional representatives last month to seek earmarks to make up the funding shortfall for Mulligan Road, but the prospects and timing of that effort remain unclear. The cost of the full, four-lane project, including intersection improvements, is $49 million. The military has covered $31 million of that, and millions more in earmarks have gone to cover part of the remainder. An $11 million to $12 million hole remains.

The Federal Highway Administration is overseeing the road's construction. Highway officials said Fairfax and the Virginia Department of Transportation are seeking the additional funds needed. They "will come up with that money. We don't know how. That hasn't been resolved yet," federal highway spokesman Doug Hecox said.

"It would be cheaper for everybody, and faster, if we could build the four lanes together at the same time," Hecox said. Otherwise, "we'd have all that roadwork going on" once the first two lanes were open.

"It would be less than desirable," he said. "It can be done, but we wouldn't like it. It just adds inconvenience to everybody."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company