Loudoun County officials and residents who voted a resounding no in Tuesday's tax referendum say their decision sent a solid message to the General Assembly: Send more state transportation money to Northern Virginia instead of trying to raise taxes here.
The defeat of the proposal, which sought a half-cent increase in the sales tax on nonfood items, will delay by years the area's most significant transportation projects intended to reduce congestion and pollution, according to officials.
Interchanges on Routes 7 and 28 and an extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport and beyond will remain top priorities and could be funded through a bond proposal in the near future, said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large).
"People are tired of sending money to the state, especially because we get so little in return," said York, who serves on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional agency created by the state that would have distributed the tax money to local jurisdictions. "There's a lack of trust here in the state legislature."
The authority will continue to exist in an advisory role to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
"The funding formulas need to be changed," York said. "Loudoun citizens sent $500 million in tax money down, and we only got 18 percent of it back this year."
The tax proposal was defeated in Loudoun by wider margins than politicians and polls had predicted. Only one of the county's 52 precincts voted for it -- Oak Grove in Dulles -- and by only 12 votes. Countywide, 63.7 percent, or 32,260 people, voted against, and 36.3 percent, or 18,387, were in favor.
That is largely because the issue united an unlikely mix of opponents: liberal environmentalists concerned that better and wider roads fuel sprawl and anti-tax activists who want to limit government spending and think that Loudouners already pay too much in rising real estate taxes.
Voters in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and in the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park and Fairfax would have received about $5 billion over 20 years for transit projects, at a cost of about $94 annually for a typical household, according to state estimates.
In Loudoun, the tax increase would have generated about $280 million over 20 years for road improvements. The main priority is the county's 30-mile portion of Route 7, for which $100 million was earmarked for interchanges along some of the busiest sections near corporate office parks and subdivisions.
York said holding a local bond referendum similar to the one that Prince William voters approved last week -- $86.7 million for seven major roads in that county -- is what "we have to do" to raise the money to clear Loudoun's clogged roads.
Supervisor William D. Bogard (I-Sugarland Run) said the defeat of the regional tax measure deflated hopes that Route 7 could be fixed soon.
"We're not going to have the resources to do any of these construction projects anytime soon, maybe not in my lifetime," said Bogard, who is chairman of the county's transportation committee. "I'm 50, and I don't plan on being around for another 40 years to wait."
Bogard said he hoped that building crucial interchanges along Route 28, which runs in Loudoun from Broad Run to Dulles Airport, would receive special attention because residents there pay higher real estate taxes than other county residents to fund the highway's expansion to six lanes.
The proposal's defeat was also a major blow to the planned 24-mile extension of Metro from West Falls Church to Tysons Corner, Dulles Airport and Route 772 in Loudoun.
The tax increase would have generated $300 million for the extension, enough to warrant additional federal funding, said state Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), who also serves on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
"But now we fall short of the federal threshold," he said. "There is no obvious answer on the horizon. It may be that money is raised by a half a dozen different methods."
Some local business officials said the tax increase would have made it easier for residents of inner suburbs to reach the Dulles area and beyond.
"It would do a world of good for the hotel industry," said Jonathan Schwartz, general manager of the Fairfax Inn Dulles near the airport. "Rail is the one thing lacking where we can't compete with other suburban localities." Traffic hurts his business, he said, and "leaves people upset more than anything."
But many residents said they voted no simply because they were skeptical of how their money would be spent.
"I'd rather have gridlock than give them more money to misappropriate," said Linda Lehr, 56, who has lived in Ashburn for 10 years. "I've watched my taxes more than double since I moved in, and I've seen nothing for it except more bureaucracy."
Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and Amy Joyce contributed to this report.