Business leaders in Fairfax see themselves, with some justification, as the county's great benefactors. They point to environmental quality, low unemployment, roads built by private industry for public use, and prosperity as proof of their claims. Their opinion of those who now want to slow the pace of development seems to be that we are an unruly mob of uneducated yokels and Luddites gathering our torches and farm implements in order to attack the very flower of progress.
In the course of my campaign for office, I have visited more than 11,000 houses and spoken to an estimated 14,000 residents in McLean and Falls Church. I think I can lay claim to having a good knowledge of what the general public wants for Fairfax County. And I think it is time that the area's pro-growth leaders listened to what I and many others are saying.
First of all, we are not against growth. We recognize the great boons development has brought to the area. We like having jobs, a high standard of living and enviable economic prosperity. We appreciate that development and business expansion have brought about this economic growth and recognize that a complete halt to growth would be bad for everyone. We like the advantages. The question is how to hold on to them.
Consider this: in the past five years, Fairfax County has added nearly 100,000 jobs and more than $50 million in additional annual real estate tax receipts. In the next five years, business interests claim they will add another 100,000 jobs and presumably another $50 million in annual taxes. But Northern Virginia has only a 2.1 percent unemployment rate. This means there are only about 7,000 people unemployed in Fairfax County right now. These new jobs will attract another 93,000 cars on the road every rush hour, and that's assuming that all of the county's out-of-work residents are employable. Plain common sense says the road network cannot support this increased traffic.
While the tax base continues to grow, the fact is that taxes on business real estate are not and have never been enough to cover the cost of roads, schools, police, fire and other governmental services. As a result, the general public gets soaked. Anyone living in the area can attest to the fact that our taxes keep going up while traffic gets worse and services lag. (There is probably no truth to the rumor that snow plows are mythical beasts on the order of unicorns and mermaids.)
There is currently talk about paving over some parkland in Fairfax County in order to build a badly needed road. The road is needed because of the development. Again, common sense says that destroying parkland is no way to maintain a quality environment.
There was a big hullaballoo a few months ago concerning the $30.7 million worth of roads built by private developers in Tysons Corner. But these new roads are just branches of existing roads leading to new development projects. They are essentially private driveways to be maintained at future public expense, and they do nothing to alleviate the traffic problems around Tysons Corner. You don't have to be a traffic engineer to confirm this; all it takes is a trip at rush hour, which runs from 8 to 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and all day Saturdays. The rest of the time it's just busy.
It is time for the pro-growthers to wake up. It is not 1975 anymore. We are not dealing with a sleepy suburban backwater. We are dealing with the most heavily populated jurisdiction in the Washington area. We are dealing with an area with one of the fastest growth rates in the eastern United States. We are dealing with a county that has a tax base and annual economic output greater than some Third World nations.
The people who live here want to hold on to the prosperity we have and to continue to grow. But that growth must be managed by building roads and providing the services to support it. Just as the horse must come before the cart, the infrastructure must come before the office buildings. -- Sherman Ponder is a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates from McLean.