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Virginians Debate Transportation Authority

A couple of dozen people in Leesburg last night offered their opinions on a new taxing and spending program that eventually could affect the travels of hundreds of thousands in Northern Virginia.

Despite the relatively small number of speakers, considering the potential impact of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, they outlined some of the basic hopes and tensions that have surrounded the startup of a plan to improve road and rail travel across the suburbs.

There will be two more such forums in Falls Church and Manassas next week, leading to a very important meeting of the transportation authority in Falls Church on July 12. The authority will hold a public hearing on the seven new taxes and fees that could be used to finance transportation spending, discuss an initial list of investments and consider financing those investments through authority-issued bonds.

Here's a summary of what people talked about last night during the forum in the Loudoun government center.

-- Those who strongly support the authority note that the last significant investment in Virginia transportation was two decades ago. The empowerment of the authority, they say, represents a rare opportunity to ease the traffic congestion that bedevils many thousands of people who live and work in the region.

-- Those who oppose empowering the authority, or at least have questions about some of the taxes that would support it, fear that July 12 is coming up way to quickly. This is a big new idea, they say, and there are many questions about the authority that must be answered. What's the rush?

-- A key question for Loudoun, and one that most definitely is on the mind of Scott York, Loudoun board chairman and a member of the authority, is whether debt incurred by the authority would limit the ability of its component jurisdictions to incur debt for their own projects, like school construction.

-- Supporters hope the authority will get the maximum bang for its bucks. They urge the authority to spend its money on widening roads, improving interchanges and buying rail cars, rather than patching potholes.

-- Opponents, knowing that the region sends a lot of tax money to the state government, resent the idea that the state wants them to pay for a lot of these transportation improvements themselves, through these seven taxes and fees. (See Post story by Eric Weiss about state spending plans.)

-- One thing that pretty much united the speakers: This may be a big new idea for improving transportation, but they don't want a big new government agency to do it. The authority must have a staff of a certain size to direct the spending, but people are concerned that the new tax money could finance a bureaucracy rather than a transportation system.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 22, 2007; 6:49 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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