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Big Decision Tonight in Virginia

This could go down as a big day in the history of efforts to ease traffic congestion in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

Starting at 6 p.m., the newly empowered Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will meet to hear public comments on its plans to impose new taxes and fees and spend the money it raises on improvements to the road and rail network.

For those who sit in traffic or on crowded rail cars every work day, this has been a long time coming. Serious political activity at the state level started about eight years and two governors ago. Then in 2002, the transportation authority was formed to spend the money that would have been raised for transportation through a sales tax increase -- if the voters of Northern Virginia had approved it.

After the defeat of the transportation tax referendum, the transportation authority languished in relative obscurity until Gov. Tim Kaine and the General Assembly gave it new life -- and a new source of revenue -- effective July 1. Prince William County's board has voted to go along with the authority, though Loudoun's board plans to test whether it conforms with the state constitution.

After hearing from the public tonight, the board could decide to impose those new taxes and fees, to raise about $300 million a year, approve a first round of projects and authorize the issuing of bonds. But it's likely to be a long night.

The meeting is at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, 7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. It's scheduled to start at 6 p.m., but doors open to public at 5:30, and speakers can sign up from 5:30 to 8 o'clock. Click here for more details from the authority about what could happen tonight.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 12, 2007; 5:17 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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This is a BAD idea. All this will do is make sure we send more money away to Richmond, and Northern VA will get less state transportation funding.

After all, what do we need state funding for? We have our own extra taxes.

Posted by: Bob | July 12, 2007 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Wrong! The whole thing is wrong. The Commonwealth of Virginia, not Northern Virginia, is responsible for building roads. Fairfax County already spent too much money on the FC Parkway which should have been 100% Commonwealth funding.

I don't care that Prince William County voted to go along with the Authority. The also have voted to have their police department act in concert with Immigration, a federal service, thus expanding the responsibilities of the PWPD which hurts the residents of the county.

Loudoun County has the right idea. Check into the legality of this authority. I think that this authority is probably not a legitimate entity.

Citizens should know that authorities are created to circumvent voters. When they are created, they can issue revenue bonds which are not backed by the full faith and credit of the parent government(s). Such is the Fairfax County Water and Park Authorities. They can do practically anything they want without voter approval.

Let's stop this farce now.

Posted by: Used to Commute from Fairfax | July 12, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm sympathetic--to a degree--with those who express concern over the ceding of real political and taxing power to an appointed body with limited accountability. However, the problem is that there has been an almost complete abrogation of responsibility by the real authority--the state legislature--since the late '80s. Investment in the state's infrastructure has been permitted to be underfunded for a generation, particularly here in NOVA. While the taxing sources this new entity has are inadequate to fully address all the needs, I, for one, am willing to see if the device can break the logjam. Then, in November, let's see if we can throw the "no new taxes, new user fees" out and get people in to the state legislature prepared to face real problems with honest--if expensive--solutions.

Posted by: Willing to Pay | July 12, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter how much money the authority raises through new taxes and fees. Those funds will be matched dollar for dollar with reductions in state funding and we'll be left with the same mess we're in now, but we'll be paying more for it.

This is just a hugely bad idea.

Posted by: Bob | July 12, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

To: Willing to Pay

Abrogation of responsibility, as you put it, is the reality of our local, state and federal governments for the past twenty years. There is no reason why that can't continue until the next election. Anyway, nothing will happen between now and November except more "fees", i.e. taxes, on the residents of Northern Virginia. Richmond will just sit on their collective behinds and laugh.

I really can't see putting more power into the hands of an authority that will be appointed by politicians. There is no such thing as an altruistic politician therefore anyone placed on the authority's board will be in the pocket of the politicians.

My thoughts are not born of cynicism but of years of observation and interaction with political types. Their egos have no limits.

Posted by: Not willing to Pay | July 12, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

NOVA residents and taxpayers, what are you complaining about and what did you expect?

For over a generation, you sat back and let highways get built all over the Commonwealth while you allowed small groups of road-opponents to block nearly every highway and parkway proposed for NOVA. Things got so bad that VDOT became convinced that the people in NOVA didn't WANT roads. I was told as much by a former VDOT manager.

You sat back and did nothing while the only new roads NOVA did get were a privately-owned toll road, HOV lanes for a few, and county parkways with stoplights as close as a few hundred feet apart.

You sat back and allowed NIMBYs in Arlington to shrink the I-66 footprint to only 2 lanes, THEN allowed them to prevent the majority of commuters from using the highway during the hours when it's needed the most.

You're sitting back today and allowing a $5.2 billion (and counting) vanity project and boondoggle - Dulles rail - to suck up scarce funding to build an unnecessary rail line that will have no impact on traffic congestion.

When you had an opportunity to raise your own money with a one-penny additional sales tax referendum, you let enviro-nuts, anti-tax zealots, and the "we don't trust Richmond" nay-sayers scare you into defeating it.

And you keep electing and re-electing Republican con men whom you allow to mess you over just as long as they don't raise taxes.

Now that something is finally getting done, you're complaining about a board that "has no accountability"? Give me a break! If there had been a referendum on this, most of you would have let yourselves get conned into voting "no" again.

Something had to be done.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 12, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The new sidewalks are going to be awesome.

Posted by: pedestrian | July 12, 2007 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The new sidewalks are going to be awesome.

Posted by: pedestrian | July 12, 2007 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"The new sidewalks are going to be awesome."

I, for one, hope some sidewalks do get built.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 12, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Richmond is loving this...wait until next year when Richmond will allow the authority to find additional revenue to raise.

Also, we have just made it worth while to move to Stafford, Winchester, West Virginia and all other places outside NVA. This will cause sprawl not stop it.

Posted by: BrokenArrow | July 12, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

What do you want? Do you want improvements to roads and transportation? Then you have to pay for it. Do you want your taxes and fees cut? Then you're going to get less of what those pay for.

The mess we are in is a direct result of ideologues who pander to people dumb enough to believe that you can get what you want from your government, but you don't have to pay for it. Until enough people wake up and throw these con-men out of office, NOVA is going to have to fix things on its own. The state legislature has made it clear over the last 20 years that it sees NOVA as nothing but a cash cow that can be milked for their own districts without being given anything back.

Posted by: cynical | July 12, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

The car tax is already hitting commuters directly. Where does all the money from this go? This is just insanity. Not even New England could come up with a tax scheme like this. I, for one, will go out of state for ANY care repair rather than pay this crazy tax.

Posted by: Jamming | July 12, 2007 7:11 PM | Report abuse


The car tax is not a car tax but a personal property tax. Cars are only one of the types of property assessed. That was another "pull the wool over our eyes" Republican move. It got old Jim elected because they fooled the electorate again. It is very obvious that the majority of Virginians are not politically literate.

All it did was reduce the amount you pay directly to your city/county. The rest comes from your taxes that you paid to Richmond. But remember, when you pay the city/county, it seems like you are only paying 20% of the total. If you believe that one, the Wilson Bridge is for sale.

I too will go out of the area for car repairs.

Posted by: No More Taxes | July 12, 2007 8:21 PM | Report abuse

"Not willing To Pay", would you be willing to pay more state taxes to fund transportation if they are placed on every resident of the commonwealth, or are you just against all taxes in general to pay for anything. Roads cost money, and since all of our tax money goes to the feds to spend on military purposes, the state needs something to pay for EXPENSIVE transportation infrastructure with the smaller amount we give them. Unless you want to bring in more Mexicans or start flying in Chinese willing to work for pennies you better fess up that something is better than nothing. We can always believe that everything goes to Richmond and never comes back. This bill prohibits that, but okay lets call them liars anyway. If we do not pay more for roads in taxes, we will be paying WAY more for roads in tolls, and tickets, which will put every hypocrite in his place (since its always everyone else who's the bad driver). As someone who is involved in the HOT Lanes project that is going to widen the Beltway, I say just wait. In the future you will see many toll roads if for no other reason than user fees turn some people on more than "taxes"....what's the difference?

This is something, it sucks, but it's better than nothing. Its easy to say "lets give more money to education and health care." Sounds less glamorous to say lets put more money into transportation, but if we don't than the whole economy of our region and quality of life will be hurt. In a way it already is.

Posted by: rocotten | July 12, 2007 8:35 PM | Report abuse

"rocotten", I have no problem if the taxes are spread over the entire Commonwealth. It is the targeting of Northern Virginia that bothers me.

If you think hot lanes are a good idea, go for it, as long as they are not paved with tax money. They may end up like the Greenway which doesn't seem too financially healthy. User fees for highways are a good thing. The only time I used toll facilities was when I was reimbursed. If I was not on business, I used highways with no tolls. Usually they were less busy anyway and there was a lot more to see.

Glamor has nothing to do with anything. We have to decentralize our workplaces and the only way we can do that is to subject commuters to some pain before they understand that roads are not the answer.

Posted by: Not Willing to Pay | July 12, 2007 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Where is the federal government in all of this? Sure roads are usually a state issue, but in this case alot of the sprawl has been made worse by the federal government "decentralizing" their operations. Thousands of workers are being taken out of DC and put in Fairfax County with what seems like very little foresight or offer of assistance for the increased nightmare the traffic will bring. As for paying for these roads, I do think the burden should be on NOVA area governments and residents to foot the bill. If I lived elsewhere in VA I would not want to pay for a new road in Fairfax County because the local authorities have thrown up their hands. As a former resident of upstate NY, I hated to see my upstate tax dollar go to NYC or Long Island. The rest of the state has their own problems. Loudoun and Fairfax County are what..number 1 and 2 in the nation in household income. It is hard to sell to another lawmaker to say that this area needs to utilized revenue from elsewhere in the state. I say we increase the car tax, on cars valued 40k and higher. Instead of Lexus lanes, make a Lexus tax. Of course half of the luxury cars I see are registered in Maryland so they probably aren't paying it anyway.

Posted by: Where are the feds? | July 12, 2007 10:07 PM | Report abuse

"I say we increase the car tax, on cars valued 40k and higher."

The car-tax phaseout started by the Gilmore administration (remember "No Car Tax"?) applies only to the first $20,000 in assessed value on any vehicle. The media have generally overlooked this over the years, so it's not well-known, but anyone owning a car that is assessed at over $20,000 pays the full amount of the car tax on the portion of the car's value in excess of $20,000.

Posted by: Rich | July 13, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

The federal government has to decentralize because of all of us NIMBYs that won't let the roads be built to help them get to work.

Posted by: NIMBY | July 18, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

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