- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Virginia transportation subcommittee is weighing a funding shift that would chop state maintenance payments to local governments by more than 20 percent, drawing ire from Northern Virginia legislators who already think they don’t get their fair share of cash from Richmond.

The move, under consideration by a Commonwealth Transportation Board subcommittee, would cut $76 million from the state’s $364.6 million local maintenance funding, according to the Virginia Municipal League. For example, using fiscal 2012 figures, the city of Alexandria would take a $318,000 hit, Arlington County would lose $9.2 million, and the city of Leesburg would lose about $717,000 under the change.

“There’s no question it’s going to crimp on our ability to maintain our streets, but the state is going to have to come up with dedicated funding for transportation so we don’t have to be in this boat,” Leesburg Council member Kenneth “Ken” Reid said.

Urban localities in Virginia receive $17,819 from the state for each lane mile of major roads and $10,461 for each lane mile of local roads to help maintain them. State code dictates that Arlington and Henrico, which maintain their own roads, receive $16,896 and $9,395 per lane mile, respectively.

The new formula would shift the allocations so that the 83 localities that maintain their own streets would get $25,600 per lane mile of primary roads and $5,000 per lane mile for all other streets. In most cases, overall funding would be reduced because the localities maintain fewer primary roads than arterial roads.

But Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton stressed that no one has formally proposed anything yet, and the numbers were merely generated as part of an exercise to determine inequities in road maintenance funding throughout the state.

“People don’t realize that the state spends $5,000 per mile to maintain the secondary roads in Fairfax, then right next door in Arlington we’re putting in $16,000 a mile, and Alexandria get $12,000 a lane mile,” he said. “The question became, ‘Why does that happen’ or ‘what can we do to fix it?’ “

A subcommittee of the board, a 17-member panel appointed by the governor that establishes administrative policies for Virginia’s transportation system, also considered a proposal combining lane-mileage calculations with needs-based budgeting. Other proposals involved vehicle miles and population growth, for example.

But since the amounts provided to Arlington and Henrico are codified, there was a common theme.

“What we have found, in actuality, in looking at all those options, is all of them cut funding to localities,” said Hollis T. Ellis, a member of the subcommittee, which is expected to report back to the board Wednesday.

That notion did not sit well with Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay, chairman of the county’s Transportation Committee.

“It’s essentially a state responsibility, and if we backed away from a county responsibility in the same manner, heads would roll,” Mr. McKay said.

David F. Snyder, Falls Church vice mayor and a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, was also displeased with the notion.

“There isn’t enough money from the state because the state has refused to raise the gas tax,” he said. “At the same time, it continues to shift the state burden on the localities. The hypocrisy here is glaring.”

Still, shifting more responsibility for roads onto the counties, an age-old proposition known as “devolution,” has once again resurfaced as an option for a state in dire need of long-term funding for transportation. About $450 million supposed to go to construction has instead gone to maintenance this year.

Fairfax County has looked at taking over control of its own roads for years, and Supervisor John Cook, Braddock Republican, has made it a key plank of his re-election campaign against Democrat Susan Oleszek.

“When I talk about local control, the word ‘control’ is important,” Mr. Cook said. That means we get to make the decisions. Cities and towns already do. The county does not. If the state’s going to require localities to fund maintenance, then it should give localities the ability to pay for it.”

But Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said that cost-effectiveness was the key.

“Can you ensure that by turning responsibility over to localities that the road networks for which they are responsible are maintained in an adequate manner?” he said. “Whether you pay local taxes, state taxes, federal taxes — it’s all coming out of your pocket. What you’re looking for as a taxpayer: ‘Is it cost-effective to do it?’ “

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