Our neighborhood streets are peppered with potholes and crumbing curbs and sidewalks. Median and roadside grass is left uncut, creating dangerous intersections and unkempt roadways that reduce property values. Snow plowing is a challenge. A recent study from the Texas Transportation Institute pegs the yearly delay per commuter in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region -- including Northern Virginia -- at 70 hours, meaning we spend nearly two workweeks sitting in congestion.
A relic of a bygone era, Virginia is one of only three states where the state, not localities, owns and maintains local roads. Controlled by rural counties that do not need more road funding, the General Assembly has eliminated construction funding for secondary (local) roads and significantly reduced maintenance funding. Recent state funding initiatives are temporary fixes only, and state policy is geared correctly toward highly traveled primary roads. A state funding formula based on lane miles instead of vehicle miles traveled hurts Fairfax as well.
But we are not resigned to this fate. Decades ago, the Hampton Roads jurisdictions opted to become cities to better meet their transportation needs as an urbanizing area. Two counties -- Arlington and Henrico -- cut their own deals with the state to handle their own roads. A year-and-a-half ago, County Executive Anthony H. Griffin recommended that Fairfax follow suit and work with the state for a local takeover of at least some roads. County staff has interviewed each Virginia locality that owns and maintains its own roads. All reported that they are happy they do and, in fact, many expressed their disbelief that Fairfax has not followed suit.
Both county staff and our citizens' Transportation Advisory Commission have identified clear benefits to Griffin's proposal. These include, but are not limited to, enhanced influence in transportation decision-making, improved responsiveness and accountability and increased flexibility in establishing priorities and standards. Despite these advantages, some county leaders are reluctant to move forward on this issue. They argue that maintaining and improving our transportation infrastructure has long been a state function and we should follow the tired path of asking for money from Richmond -- even if we know it won't arrive.
I agree that funding is an issue and any transfer of responsibility would have to come with a transfer of at least current levels of state funding. Further enhancements to our transportation system likely would require local dollars. But remember, a local system means all our local dollars stay right here in Fairfax, instead of Fairfax dollars going to Richmond, where only a fraction return. A good first step toward locally enhanced funding would be removing the Decal Fee, which generates roughly $27 million, from the General Fund and apportioning it to transportation projects.
I do not suggest that moving toward local control of local roads is a simple issue. Much care and thought must be given to any potential change. But Fairfax County is an urbanizing suburb and it needs a 21st-century system for its roads, one where decision-making authority rests here, not in Richmond.
John Cook (R) represents the Braddock District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.