Jack Herrity's Oct. 17 Close to Home piece, "Fixing Fairfax's Road Woes," highlighted the importance of the transportation bond referendum that goes before county voters on Tuesday. However, any discussion of transportation funding in Virginia must start with the understanding that transportation is by statute a state responsibility and that all of the revenue collected for transportation -- gas taxes, registration fees and sales taxes, for example -- goes to Virginia. I hope the General Assembly will reform transportation funding this year, but that doesn't mean that Fairfax County is doing nothing about traffic problems. The county is working on several projects in partnership with the state, the federal government and local landowners, including:
* The "Mixing Bowl" interchange of interstates 95, 395 and 495, which is more than half finished.
* The new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, where the first beams are being bolted into place.
* Metro in the Dulles Corridor, which is in preliminary engineering, the final phase before construction.
* Studies on adding high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to the Beltway and Interstate 95.
Also significant is that, for the first time, the Board of Supervisors has adopted a four-year transportation plan to combat congestion. The plan's centerpiece is a $165 million bond issue that Fairfax voters will be asked to approve on Tuesday. This bond would fund the county's contribution to the "Metro Matters" campaign -- a $1.5 billion program aimed at renewing and improving the Metro system that also provides $50 million for roadway and spot intersection improvements. Coupled with targeted allocations during the next four years, the county will provide $100 million for roadway and transportation improvements.
The board's transportation plan is about helping people get to where they need to go -- whether by mass transit, automobile, foot or bike. It also encourages telecommuting, so residents do not have to leave home to work.
Residents can view the plan at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gov/ bos/chair/transportation_plan.htm.
Herrity's article also didn't note that school construction, unlike transportation funding, is 100 percent a local responsibility. This means that bond sales for school construction and renovation are the county's top priority.
Fairfax faces the twin challenges of aging facilities and a growing school population. Even with the significant commitment the supervisors have made to the schools, the county is playing catch-up on school construction and renovation and probably will be doing so for several years.
What's more, schools aren't the only facilities Fairfax funds through bonds. The county has issued bonds for parks, libraries, and public safety and human service facilities. At the same time, it has to manage its debt to keep its credit rating high, and that it has done well.
Fairfax is one of only 44 local jurisdictions out of thousands nationwide that have achieved an AAA rating for their bonds from the three major bond-rating houses. This high rating allows the county to sell its bonds at the lowest possible interest rate -- saving Fairfax almost $300 million in interest payments since 1978 compared with a jurisdiction with an average rating selling the same amount of bonds. So with the county constrained in its ability to sell bonds, the supervisors have looked for other ways to provide money for transportation.
One way is through Northern Virginia Transportation District bonds. Since 1992 the General Assembly has authorized five bond sales -- in 1993, 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2002 -- totaling almost $500 million. Projects identified by local elected officials are then selected by the General Assembly for inclusion in the bonds. More than $300 million of this money has been spent in Fairfax -- on the Fairfax County Parkway, Route 123, Telegraph Road, Route 7, the Franconia-Springfield Metro station and other projects. The debt service on these bonds is paid through right-of-way fees and recordation taxes in the region. These bonds do not affect the county's debt ceiling, because they are issued by the state.
Additionally, Fairfax spends about $80 million to $90 million annually of its general fund on transportation for everything from the Fairfax Connector to roadway improvements.
As Gen. Ulysses Grant said in 1864, "We must attack on all fronts simultaneously." We must do the same to win the war on congestion. The November transportation bond is one front in the battle against traffic congestion that I hope we'll win.
-- Gerry Connolly
is chairman of the
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.