Missing in action on U.S. Route 1

By Sharon Bulova, Jeff McKay and Gerry Hyland
Sunday, July 11, 2010

The July 4 Local Opinions commentary "A fair shake for Fairfax's other business corridor" was simply mind-boggling.

The column, written by Virginia Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax) and Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon), suggested that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is shortchanging the Richmond Highway Corridor (U.S. Route 1) in its focus on the transformation of Tysons Corner. It mentioned specifically the county's efforts to identify financing strategies for transportation infrastructure.

When the issue of transportation funding comes back to the board this year, it will be to consider funding options, from private and public sources, for transportation countywide. On this front, our state "partners" have been missing in action.

Fairfax has assumed a greater and greater role in paying for transportation improvements, traditionally a state responsibility. Fairfax County's State Secondary Fund allocation has dwindled from $29.4 million in 2004 to a measly $1,989 this year -- not even enough to install a traffic light. It is unbelievable that these members of the General Assembly would complain about not getting their "fair share."

Some facts regarding the Richmond Highway area:

-- Two of the county's largest road improvement projects are the extension of the Fairfax County Parkway to Richmond Highway and the widening and extension of Mulligan Road in the Fort Belvoir area. Funding from the county, not the state, was used to match federal stimulus funding to pay for this work.

-- To foster revitalization along Route 1, the Board of Supervisors has, for well over 20 years, funded the Southeast Fairfax Development Corp., the only such arrangement in the county. SFDC has spearheaded projects that have brought more than $1 billion in investments to the corridor.

-- We have established the REX Connector bus service and committed to a long-term investment in sidewalk and streetscape improvements (again, usually a state responsibility) for the length of Route 1, a multiyear, $55 million ongoing county and federal investment.

-- Thanks to a county-funded planning and design initiative and the efforts of Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), we were able to get a $150 million federal grant through the Base Realignment and Closure program to widen and improve Richmond Highway.

In the meantime, state funding meant to study transit, including the extension of Metro in the corridor, evaporated from the state budget.

While the transformation of Tysons Corner has received quite a lot of media attention as the Comprehensive Plan Amendment has worked its way through the approval process, there has been no less commitment to other needs in the county, especially in the Richmond Highway Corridor. Redevelopment and revitalization of both areas are county priorities.

It is important to note that, while we are fostering smart-growth revitalization in commercial areas throughout Fairfax, one size doesn't fit all. Revitalization is a process that evolves over time. It requires the public and private sectors to work together. Not every place can be, or wants to be, Tysons Corner. A common thread has run through revitalization studies conducted with the community in the Richmond Highway corridor: a desire to protect the existing assets of the highway, including its hundreds of unique small businesses and stable residential communities.

Anyone who hasn't seen the improvements in the corridor just hasn't been paying attention. Blighted buildings have been replaced with modern, attractive ones. With the help of the private sector, we have revitalized aging shopping centers up and down the corridor, notably Hybla Valley and Beacon Mall.

Rather than attempting to pit one end of the county against the other, and the county against the state, we suggest our state representatives turn their attention toward becoming real partners for transportation funding. They could start with getting the Virginia Department of Transportation to repave Route 1 and cut the grass in the medians throughout Fairfax County.

Sharon Bulova is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Jeff McKay represents the Lee District on the board. Gerry Hyland represents the Mount Vernon District. All three are Democrats.

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