Board debates ballot add-ons

The 16-member Northern Virginia Transportation Authority that goes into effect July 1 was restructured by the General Assembly this year to take away veto power from Fairfax County.

With that threat out of the way, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors expressed no problems with the authority structure at a transportation work session Friday.

But supervisors said funding priorities need to be made for the onset of the 20-year $5 billion sales tax referendum.

The NVTA oversees available funds for transportation construction projects, but if a half-cent sales tax increase is rejected by Northern Virginia voters in November, the authority won’t have the money needed to carry out various projects.

The NVTA governing board will be made up of:

the nine chief elected officials from the counties of Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William and cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas and Manassas Park;

two House delegates and one senator from Northern Virginia;

one Northern Virginia citizen experienced in transportation;

one citizen representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board;

and two non-voting members: the state commissioner of revenue and director of Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The towns of Haymarket, Quantico, Dumfries, Occoquan are part of the NVTA’s Planning Coordination Advisory Committee.

For the governing board to meet, at least five of nine jurisdictions must be present. For a vote to pass, an affirmative vote must be cast by:

two-thirds of members present, or 10 of 14;

two-thirds of jurisdictional members, or six of nine;

and that two-thirds of the population is reflected in the jurisdictional members’ affirmative vote.

The larger jurisdictions are protected from the minority because the six smallest localities, each with one vote, have 20 percent of the population, which does not meet the two-thirds population requirement.

The smaller localities are protected from Fairfax County. It has 53.4 percent of the region’s 1.81 million citizens, but a clause was added to prevent it from exercising veto power: No motion to fund a project will fail by the two-thirds population requirement if the project is not located in the jurisdiction whose sole negative vote caused it to fail.

What concerned supervisors on Friday is how the county could be assured some of its needs would be addressed in the first years of referendum funding.

Priorities should be set out for voters before November at least a top three said Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III, R-Gainesville.

“The more that we can put on the record, the clearer [the referendum] gets and the more support you can get for it. If everyone has questions going in, I don’t think there will be support for it,” he said.

The referendum allocates $2.7 billion to 24 different projects. Another $2.3 billion in pay-as-you-go cash will supplement the bonds in a 55/45 bond-to-cash ratio. Bonds are issued over a 20-year period, with $100 million in fiscal 2004 and $300 million in 2006 and every two years after.

One suggestion as a first-year priority is for $150 million in secondary road dollars to go to the four counties, said Pierce Homer, deputy secretary for the Virginia Department of Transportation. That would net Prince William $26.2 million that it could spend at its discretion on secondary roads, which are numbered 600 and above, like Minnieville Road (Va. 640) and Linton Hall Road (Va. 619).

State funding for secondary roads was cut this month for all of Virginia in the six-year plan, setting back many local road schedules.

The referendum contains $150 million for U.S. 1, but there is no guarantee that Prince William County would see its section funded as opposed to Fairfax County, said Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, R-Dumfries.

During the General Assembly, legislators said that money would get U.S. 1 widened down to Va. 123 in Prince William County; therefore most road dollars would go to Fairfax County.

But Homer said the two counties are talking about splitting the amount evenly: $75 million for each piece of U.S. 1.

Wilbourn said he wants to know when sections of Interstate 66 will be addressed. Other supervisors asked about Interstate 95, which also needs to be widened but was, like I-66, cut from the state’s six-year plan.

Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan, said voters cannot be made to think everything will happen right after the referendum passes, leading Homer to agree that many of the projects in the referendum are large and take eight to 10 years to plan and design. Take for example the Va. 234 widening project, he said, which was on the books for years.

“I just don’t know how much Prince William is going to benefit by doing things in Fairfax ahead of us,” said Supervisor L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville.

Homer said the county’s own surveys have shown its residents say they can get around Prince William County, but their answers are less positive about traveling outside the county.

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