We have a problem in Fairfax County, and it is inadequate roads. Many of our residents have come from other states and find to their dismay that our roads are not under local control but are the "responsibility" of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation--a state agency not too lovingly referred to as VDH&T. Why, then, does VDH&T not take active steps to improve the inadequate roads?
The greatest frustration and impediment to progress is the attitude of the state. Whenever a discussion about our roads occurs in Richmond, the state only tells us why it cannot begin solutions. The state has never officially recognized that we have inadequate roads, nor has it indicated that it would be really interested in improving them.
The standard VDH&T response is lack of money to do the job. State road money comes from gas taxes, which have not kept up with increased costs of road improvements and inflation. However, road improvements were not being done in sufficient quantity even when revenue flowed more easily.
While the amount of revenue available to VDH&T statewide is not enough, there is an additional problem: how that money is distributed. Fairfax County has 10.7 percent of the total state population, 11.4 percent of the total state vehicle registrations and, excepting the interstate highways, only 3.2 percent of the money available for road improvements. This is less than one-third of what should be the county's share. All of this is clearly inequitable. Regardless of the total amount of money to be distributed, we must have a fairer allocation.
At a recent meeting, Gov. Charles Robb stated that other jurisdictions have problems also and that the money must be shared with those localities. We do not quarrel with that --but will continue to insist that the sharing be more equitable, which it never has been.
We have been forced to request, and receive, legislative permission to begin road improvements with local money; and our citizens have approved two successive bond referendums putting millions of dollars of our local tax money into road improvements. The state does not even acknowledge this large amount of self-help.
We have long recognized that the outdated formulas used for allocation of state highway funds can be changed only by action of the Virginia General Assembly. We hope that in the next session the county's delegation can be successful in pursuing appropriate changes. Such action needs to be preceded by a recognition on the part of the governor and the highway department itself that a change in the allocation formulas is necessary to resolve the highway problems in Fairfax County.
Some will say: stop driving so many cars and you won't have a problem. Fairfax County has been making a large effort to use public transportation, van pools and car pools to relieve congestion on our roads. But at this time, not one Metrorail car is carrying passengers in Fairfax, through no fault of the county. Even when Metrorail finally begins to operate, most public transportation in the county will be by bus. That effort continues to be frustrated by the condition of the roads. All demographic projections show that Fairfax County residents will both live and work in the county, and will need intra- county roads for their travel, whether it be by bus, van pool, car pool or car.
The state administration should recognize that it has a vested interest in addressing these county problems. The state directly benefits from each corporation doing business in the county, through the taxes paid by that corporation, and from each employed citizen in the county, through the taxes paid by that citizen. If Virginia made a real investment in road improvements in Fairfax, nowhere else in the state would there be a greater return for each dollar invested.
What should be done? Who can effect change? First, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should articulate and thoroughly describe this growing problem. Second, the entire Fairfax legislative delegation should continue, as it has in the past, to advocate constructive change in the way the state deals with our local portion of the highway system, including the allocation of highway funds. To be successful, the delegation must form a coalition in the assembly. Third, the governor should acknowledge that solutions are critical, and so advise his administration, the General Assembly and the State Highway Commission. Fourth, the two members of the State Highway Commission from Northern Virginia should pledge to work within the system to better describe our needs and what should be done about them. Together we can achieve progress.