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Posted at 2:36 PM ET, 07/13/2009

In Fairfax, Other Routes to Better Roads

By Stephen Stromberg

By Sharon Bulova
Fairfax

At the tail end of a two-day Fairfax County Board of Supervisors retreat at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, County Executive Tony Griffin put an intriguing and unexpected proposal on the table. Maybe, he said, it's time to consider taking over the roadway system in Fairfax County. Griffin ventured that Fairfax County is already doing everything a city does "except for the roads," and suggested that it might be time to explore the issue. This suggestion sparked the recent media attention about the county becoming a city.

For veteran members of our board, the discussion was like "deja vu all over again." In 1990, the board commissioned a study to explore the feasibility of taking over responsibility for "the construction, control, maintenance, and repair of its secondary, or secondary and primary road systems" from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Several years after that, under the chairmanship of Tom Davis, a blue-ribbon commission looked into the possibility of Fairfax either becoming a city or negotiating a county charter that would give us more autonomy and authority over transportation. None of this happened. The transit situation, however, has continued to deteriorate.

We are profoundly dissatisfied with the state's lack of funding for transportation and road maintenance in Fairfax County. Most people blame the county for the shoddy three-times-per-year mowing schedule, the unfilled potholes and the sluggish pace for resurfacing neighborhood streets and sidewalks. Constituents call us instead of VDOT when their streets go unplowed during the winter or when traffic signals malfunction.

The truth is that the state owns and maintains roads in Fairfax County, right down to your little neighborhood cul-de-sac. Road program funding comes from taxes paid to the state, not from local property taxes, and only 19 cents of every dollar that Fairfax County taxpayers send to Richmond comes back to us. The majority of taxes paid into state coffers by our businesses and residents are distributed among other jurisdictions, and we are left to settle for a share of road funds more suited to a rural farming county.

Most people don't realize that cities and towns in Virginia receive a larger share of state dollars for maintenance (twice VDOT's budget to maintain Fairfax County's roads). In other words, Virginia's well-kept cities and towns are provided a bigger share of the state pie, while Fairfax County is treated as though we were still the dairy farm community we evolved from 60 years ago -- as though we have not become Virginia's economic engine. We are still living under a system based in Virginia's history when, as an agrarian economy, cities were where the power and dollars were. That hasn't applied to Fairfax County for decades, but our government structure hasn't caught up to reality.

No member of our board would begrudge our neighboring jurisdictions their state maintenance funding. We are, instead, making the case to our state representatives for fairness and equity. Our residents should not have to settle for shaggy grass and unpaved streets. It is unsafe and unsightly, and it gives the impression that government is not taking care of business. Wherever this discussion leads -- a serious look at our becoming a city; a county charter giving us more home rule and an improved share of state tax dollars; or a more equitable change in transportation funding formulas the case needs to be made for Fairfax County to be given what we need to keep our communities safe, attractive and vital.

The writer is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

By Stephen Stromberg  | July 13, 2009; 2:36 PM ET
Categories:  transportation  
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Comments

City controlled road maintenance has worked great in DC. I hope the City of Fairfax can live up to those standards.

Posted by: JOMALIQUE | July 17, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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