A broad-based coalition of civic and business groups in Prince William County, concerned about the county's rush-hour traffic jams and last year's defeat of a $20 million highway bond referendum, has launched a major effort to build support for another road bond issue.
Calling itself Transpo '85, the coalition includes groups such as the League of Women Voters, the Washington Board of Trade, the Greater Manassas/Prince William Chambers of Commerce, at least four civic associations, the County Board of Realtors and the Home Builders Association. Supporting the coalition will be county residents Carl Peterson and John Powell, who won approval from federal highway officials last year for a temporary high occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) between Woodbridge and Springfield.
"We plan in this campaign to be positive about the good things in county transportation," said coalition spokesman Ken Thompson, first vice president of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. "But at the same time, we'll try to educate the public about the need to solve our own road problems."
Last month the Board of Supervisors rejected a recommendation by County Executive Robert Noe that a road bond issue be included in a referendum that will go before the voters next spring. Instead, the supervisors approved a $12.8 million bond referendum that will include a regional library, a recreation center and a training center for police and firefighters.
"I think it's important that a group outside the government has stepped forth to articulate our road problems to the community," Noe said this week. "Our roads are inadequate, and the county government has been saying that for a long time."
A spokesman for the supervisors said the board declined to include roads in the referendum because of last year's highway bond defeat and because the Virginia Association of Counties has proposed a $500 million statewide road bond referendum that would include roads in Prince William County.
Although the General Assembly changed the road funding formula this year to spend the state's limited revenue in highly populated areas, municipalities are finding it increasingly necessary to depend on their own resources to pay for what Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity calls the three most important issues of the day: roads, roads and roads. The Fairfax Board of Supervisors will submit a $134.4 million road bond proposal to the voters in a referendum in November.
Appearing before the supervisors Tuesday, Thompson outlined plans for a transportation exhibit that the group will hold Oct. 6 at the Davis Ford Park and asked the supervisors to designate that date as "Prince William Transportation Awareness Day." Not coincidentally, October marks the 100th anniversary of the (differential gear) automobile, Thompson said.
There will be displays at the exhibit showing the county's successful ride-sharing program, its bus system and a proposed commuter rail system from Manassas to Union Station in Washington. The county has pledged $15,000 to the two-year, $15 million project.
The group also will illustrate the millions of dollars worth of road improvements made by developers over the past several years. A large cake will be decorated to show the HOV lanes to Woodbridge.
"This campaign will be a good educational tool and I'm proud of it," said Board Chairman Richard Pfitzner, who said he met with coalition leaders recently. "I think it's a good idea to keep politicians out of it. When politics are involved there's always credit and blame. Roads should be above all that."
Although the group has not determined the dollar amount of the road bond issue that they will recommend to the supervisors, Thompson said it should not be modeled after last year's referendum, which essentially listed a road improvement project in each of the county's seven magisterial districts.
"We think the pork barrel effect is one of the reasons it failed," said Thompson. "Everybody got a little bit and no one got enough."
While he declined to name which road projects the coalition would like to see included in a road bond, Thompson indicated that "the larger roads" should be the first consideration. Rte. 234, one of only two east-west connectors in the county, and the fast-developing Rte. 28 corridor would be among them.
True relief, county planners say, should come in the form of a bypass for both of these roads. To circumvent citizen opposition to another highway bond, the coalition will follow its October exhibit with a survey of registered voters to determine what they would support on a road bond issue. The information gathered would be used, Thompson said, to advise the board ("if we're asked") on how it can best prepare a referendum that will stand a good chance of passing.
County officals have said that the biggest reason the road bond failed to win approval last year is that residents see roads as the state's responsibility. "Theoretically and historically, that's true," said county legislative liaison Barry Lawrence. "But the county needs roads and interest rates are down to 8.5 and 9 percent. If we are going to borrow money, this looks like a good time to do it."