There are many reasons Fairfax County residents continue to experience ever-worsening congestion on their local roads. But one of the more obvious now appears to be the decision some 12 years ago by county leaders not to seek voter approval for new transportation bond measures. Good roads cost money, and they do not build themselves.
During the 1980s and early '90s, Fairfax voters were asked on several occasions to approve long-term financing of public roads. Then, in 1993, the asking stopped. The decision to stop asking voters whether to fund county transportation projects was never explained; in fact, county leaders may have been unaware that they had even adopted a negative policy on road improvements. But they had. The record speaks for itself and the unpleasant results of that policy are evident.
Between 1981 and 1992, Fairfax County voters were asked six times to approve the issuance of some $550 million in transportation bonds. In 1981 there was a $30 million bond referendum; in 1982 a $25 million bond referendum; in 1985 a $135 million bond referendum; in 1988 a $150 million bond referendum; in 1990 an $80 million bond referendum; and in 1992 a $130 million bond referendum. Ninety percent of these bond referendums were related to the construction of primary and secondary roads in Fairfax County.
The apparent commitment of the Fairfax County leadership not to seek voter approval to allocate even a modest portion of county resources to transportation needs is inexplicable. There was certainly no compelling reason emanating from Richmond to discourage such local bond referendums.
Meanwhile, during this period of transportation inaction in Fairfax, the leadership of Prince William County was taking the initiative and asking its citizens to back the issuance of bonds for local transportation improvements. Between 1994 and 2000, Prince William voters approved the issuance of some $147.3 million in transportation bonds. In 1994 there was a $17.9 million bond referendum; in 1998 a $42.7 million bond referendum; and in 2000, an $86.7 million bond referendum -- a significant commitment to local transportation funding considering that Prince William County's tax base is quite a bit less than that of Fairfax.
The voters of Fairfax County will, after a drought of 12 years, be asked next month to approve the issuance of new transportation bonds. This is clearly a step in the right direction, but it is a very small step. The bulk of the proceeds of the proposed $165 million transportation bond, which, according to Gerry Connolly is the county's "four-year plan" for transportation funding, will not be allocated for local roads. Most of the proceeds will be used to upgrade the Metro system. Only about $35 million of that money is targeted for the improvement of local roads.
I hope that a new commitment to help Fairfax County's transportation woes will develop. But the commitment will only be possible with a larger and more visionary effort from the Fairfax County leadership.
-- Jack Herrity
is a former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.