Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Archive for March, 2013

Great, but what about the big picture?

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on March 7, 2013

Northern Virginia transportation officials are rightly concerned that new transportation funds bring new expectations from residents for traffic relief. Last week, Post columnist Robert McCartney reflected on his interviews with transportation directors in Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince William Counties on the new regional funds for transportation improvements (read the full article here): “Their comments surprised me. I was expecting an outpouring of gratitude and relief that after 27 years of paralysis, the Virginia legislature had finally approved the money they desperately needed to fund the projects they’ve dreamed of doing. Instead, some of these powerful but unheralded public servants seemed anxious about their newfound riches. If they don’t deliver visible improvements in commuting and travel time, they feared, then voters would erupt over getting nothing in return for the increased taxes and fees.”

McCartney’s column today, though, celebrates a new road project that would have minimal value in reducing traffic congestion. The Manassas Battlefield Bypass has long been pushed in conjunction with the Bi-County Parkway. An ostensible purpose of the bypass is to relieve traffic pressures through the historic battlefield. VDOT has promised to close Route 29 through the battlefield once the bypass is built. McCartney lauds the handshake arrangement that VDOT has made with the park superintendent to close 29 once the bypass and Bi-County Parkway has been built. He implies that opponents are narrowly focused on their property interests and are simply standing in the way of progress.

The bypass is part of a much larger North-South Corridor project that includes the Bi-County Parkway and new road segments extending south to I-95 and north to Leesburg. The North-South Corridor will cost more than $1 billion and doesn’t address the traffic issues afflicting Prince William and Loudoun, which are east-west and not north-south.It would also divert the new regional funds from much more pressing traffic and transit fixes in Fairfax and the inner suburbs.

Preserving the battlefield’s historic character and making it more accessible for visitors is important. It is great that the Battlefield superintendent and VDOT are negotiating a compromise (although it would be better if VDOT actually made the pledge in a binding form). But what happened to the paramount concern with traffic relief that McCartney seemed to hear so loud and clear last week?

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Media Groupthink

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on March 3, 2013

The shrill chorus of pro-highway voices reached a crescendo today with the Washington Post’s editorial calling out the Northern Virginia delegates who voted against the state’s transportation bill. This week’s Fairfax Times also contained an editorial lauding the McDonnell Administration for striking a deal, and castigating opponents of the bill for “creat[ing] roadblocks and [fall]ing on political swords.”

The Northern Virginia media, and in particular the Post, are determined to punish legislators who were not willing to cut a blank check for the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The transportation bill raises taxes for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads residents to pay for transportation improvements that the state should be paying for already. The state is instead squandering the money on new highway projects such as Route 460, the Outer Beltway in Loudoun and Prince William and the Charlottesville western bypass.

The fundamental problems with the bill are aptly explained by Senator Chap Petersen, and in Stewart Schwartz’s blog piece in Greater Greater Washington. As Petersen said, “Money alone will not solve this issue.” The Commonwealth Transportation Board and VDOT are focused on “megaprojects” that provide fat contracts for construction companies and open up new land for development. The McDonnell Administration is moving up the $1.2 billion Outer Beltway project to the first project in line in Northern Virginia to receive the new funds. Northern Virginia does not need new highways. Improvements on existing roads to relieve bottlenecks are a much higher priority, as county transportation directors explained in Robert McCartney’s recent Post article.

Many legislators voted for the bill believing that it was the best deal they could get under the political realities of Virginia both now and in the foreseeable future. Virginia is still a largely rural state. The rural districts are powerfully represented in the legislature and on the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Transportation funds have traditionally been allocated liberally throughout the state, with a priority on new highway construction.

The bill allows Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise their own transportation money – which business and political leaders in the regions have been trying to do for well over a decade. It provides a new funding source for transit – albeit from raiding the general fund. In many legislators’ minds, it was too good to pass up.

Reasonable minds may disagree. But to the editorial board of the Post, there is only one right answer. They choose not to listen to, and are determined to punish, the reasonable voices of caution and skepticism who are all too aware of the state’s poor track record of using transportation funds to increase transportation choices and reduce traffic congestion. It is sad to see such narrow-mindedness and vindictiveness in the editorial board of our paper of record.

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