Fairfax Calls Transportation Funds Lacking

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fairfax County officials have revived their complaint that they do not get adequate funds from a federal transportation program that helps them pay for small but important projects throughout the county.

Their objections, outlined last week during a Board of Supervisors meeting, surround the decision on how to distribute the $22 million granted to the state by the federal Transportation Enhancement Program. The federal government passes the grant to the state, which then distributes the money to localities. The program pays for 80 percent of selected projects, and localities kick in 20 percent.

The federal allotment, one of myriad ways that the state pays for transportation projects, allocated $1.4 million to Northern Virginia this year, with $340,000 going to Fairfax to help fund a pair of trails at Gunston Hall Plantation and Meadowlark Gardens Regional Park.

Fairfax officials said that the region and the county have the most pressing traffic needs and should get a higher percentage of the funds. In the coming days, the board plans to write a letter outlining concerns to the state's Commonwealth Transportation Board, which made the decision.

Fairfax officials said that over the 12 years of the program, county projects have received only $10.1 million, or 3.6 percent, of the $232.8 million available.

"It's inconceivable that a jurisdiction that has 14 percent of the state's population gets such a small percentage of these available dollars," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D).

State officials said that the distribution is competitive and that money is awarded to all jurisdictions, regardless of size.

"With transportation funding, as with many things, there is much more demand than the supply can afford," Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said. "We struggle to fund many worthy projects."

Although the amount of money at stake is small compared with the many hundreds of millions necessary to keep traffic moving throughout the commonwealth, Fairfax officials said that the allocation is an example of how Northern Virginia continues to suffer because of the state's inability to supply a dedicated stream of funding to the most congested areas.

Later this month, state lawmakers are scheduled to meet for a day-long special session in hopes of finding funding solutions for road and rail projects. Many political observers are skeptical that politicians will come up with a solution that will address the overwhelming demand in both Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Fairfax officials said they worry that if lawmakers do not adequately fund projects that have been mapped out, the county might have to take $860 million worth of projects off the planning charts.

"There should be a big sign on the front of the General Assembly building as legislators return to Richmond later this month," Connolly said. "It should say: 'Warning. Don't come back without solutions.' "

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