Money for major road projects in Fairfax County, approved in a bond issue last fall, is several million dollars short of what is needed, county officials say, and many projects can't be completed without approval of another bond.
Last November, voters approved a $30 million bond issue that was to be used for 14 major road projects. But county transportation and public works officials now say the funds may not cover completion of those projects, much less allow them to begin work on 10 other projects given a lower priority in the bond package.
"There's no doubt all the projects listed cannot be funded totally," said John W. di Zerega, director of the office of capital facilities.
Although county officials warned voters last year that not all the projects in the bond package would be funded, officials now say the $30 million will cover even less work than anticipated.
Supervisor Joseph A. Alexander (D-Lee) said he will ask his fellow supervisors to seek another $15 million to $25 million for roads in a bond referendum package this fall--three years earlier than supervisors planned to ask voters for more money for roads.
"Roads and transportation are the most important issues in this county as far as citizens care," said Alexander. "They are above schools or anything else."
County officials blame the money problems on the tight budget of the state highway department, which originally had planned to do work on some of the projects, inflation and a road program that was too ambitious to begin with.
County officials say that traffic has outpaced the capacity of many major county roads in Fairfax, creating more and more bottlenecks and traffic jams. In addition, poor access to bustling shopping centers and industrial parks often has clogged major county intersections.
The congestion and poor roads have posed major safety concerns in many parts of Fairfax, said Robert L. Moore, the county's transportation chief.
"Roads are the single biggest inadequacy in the county now," added Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale).
The request for more road funds will be competing with pleas for more money for parks, Metro and county office space. At its Aug. 2 meeting, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide how to divide its proposed bond package. The final proposal will be on the general election ballot Nov. 2.
Road programs have been one of the most controversial issues at the state and local levels. Large suburban counties, such as Fairfax, have argued for years that the state highway funding formula shortchanges densely populated counties while favoring rural counties, which have neither the population nor the traffic congestion of their bigger sisters. Some of the projects listed in the Fairfax bond package last year had been on the state list of planned road improvements for 10 years.
Until two years ago, county governments had to depend on the state for money for major road work. But with urging from various localities, the General Assembly approved a bill allowing counties to undertake their own major road programs. That approval came about the same time the state highway department began running out of money for local projects.
"We could no longer sit around and wring our hands saying, 'We don't know what to do,' while we were choking on our own traffic," said Alexander.
But shortly after the state gave counties the power to supplement state money with local bond issues, it put a $10 million annual ceiling on the amount counties could spend. Under the bond issue approved last fall, the $30 million would have been spent over several years, partly to meet the annual spending limit.
"It was put on by our own delegates to keep us fiscally responsible," said Supervisor Moore.
Supervisors, citing their need for more road money, say they will ask the legislature to lift that ceiling next session. Turning over some of the road improvement reponsibility to counties has spawned new political battles.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors disregarded its staff's recommendations for road priorities and opted for a huge list of projects that included programs in every supervisor's district.
Now many supervisors are racing to see that their projects are started before the money runs out.
Moore said one of the biggest projects in the county, which is in her magisterial district, is threatened by the funds shortage. The project would widen part of Braddock Road and attempt to alleviate bottlenecks at Port Royal Road and Braddock. Moore contends the Braddock Road proposals have been neglected by the state for almost a decade.
"There's been an initial lack of enthusiasm from engineers because it looked like such a big problem," she said. As a result, the planning process that would get the project off the ground has lagged far behind other county road programs. Moore said initial studies, completed on several other projects, have just begun for the Braddock Road/Port Royal plan.
"The staff kept saying, 'Don't worry,' " said Moore. "But I have plenty of reason to worrry. They're getting to it at a time when they're running out of money."
The process leading to completion of a road project is long and often laborious, and county officials warn that it can take several years before many projects are completed, even those given the highest priority.