Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) suggested Tuesday that a special taxing district be explored as a way of easing the gridlock in Gainesville at Interstate 66 and Route 29.
Connaughton said a taxing district supported by increased levies on commercial and business taxpayers might help pay for some of the projects placed on the back burner by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
"We're not going to see any money in the foreseeable future" for the projects, Connaughton said at the board meeting. "Let's see if commercial property owners are interested in it."
VDOT has spent $11 million on preliminary engineering to rebuild the I-66/Route 29 intersection and has budgeted $47 million for right-of-way acquisition in 2008. But no money is budgeted for construction, said Joan Morris, VDOT spokeswoman.
"If the county is interested in going ahead with this in some other way, you can't blame them," Morris said.
Connaughton said a local taxing district could solve some of the overall traffic problems and provide relief for the fast-growing corridor. He suggested that improving the Linton Hall Road intersection and the at-grade railroad crossing on Route 29 would go a long way to helping ease commute and travel times.
Connaughton cited several examples of localities taking road-building into their own hands, including the county's own Prince William Parkway and Loudoun County's rebuilding of several Route 28 interchanges north of I-66.
The initial reaction to Connaughton's trial balloon was cautious.
Kris Spitler, chairman of the Prince William County Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce, said she welcomed any discussion about possible solutions to the county's traffic woes.
"We hear from many, many businesses about traffic congestion," Spitler said. "Employees can't get to work on time or get to where they need to go."
She said that special taxing districts have worked well in other places and that the business community would work with Connaughton and other supervisors.
"We can all complain, but at some point you have to consider solutions to problems," she said.
Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said he would be open to a special taxing district on business if it included other partners or with the participation of nearby residents, who would benefit directly from the improvements.
"Sean started the debate on that, and it's a debate that the county should have when it comes to funding these bigger projects," Covington said.
Covington said Prince William should also consider readjusting its budget to include more for transportation. Although that would entail cuts elsewhere, the area's road network is the bane of many residents from the Potomac to Bull Run Mountain.
Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) did not return a call seeking comment.
Connaughton emphasized that his plan is only an idea at this point. The next step is to get a more detailed breakdown of project costs and other data.