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Fairfax County supervisors raise concern about 'war on cars'

Wednesday - 6/18/2014, 9:49am  ET

WASHINGTON -- Concerns from drivers that cyclists and pedestrians get too much attention and funding are often focused inside the Beltway. But now members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have concerns that the "war on cars" is nudging its way into the suburbs.

Supervisor Pat Herrity raised the issue as the board voted Tuesday to move a $100 million transportation bond issue onto the ballot this fall.

"The scope and extent of the $85 million in bike and pedestrian projects included in this referendum far exceed both the current and projected mode share, especially given that we've got so many unfunded projects that would relieve significant congestion," said Herrity, the Springfield district supervisor.

But county Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny says the bond money would cover smaller projects that it does not make sense to cover with federal, state or regional dollars.

"Some of those revenue sources have restrictions on them, and some of them actually complicate implementing the type of projects that are included in this bond referendum. For example, adding federal funds to pedestrian projects actually makes them significantly more expensive and increases the amount of time it takes to implement those projects," Biesiadny told the board.

Some of the statewide sources that were approved by the General Assembly are more geared to larger projects such as the I-66 and Route 28 interchange, which has received significant amount of funding from state sources and will continue to receive money from the new transportation funding bill for its implementation.

"Right now, there is adequate amount of money on that project to continue the design and also go into Phase 1 improvements," Biesiadny added.

Other members of the county board say they hear the demand for sidewalks, bike lanes and bike trails on a regular basis.

"Some of these projects just would not occur or… would cost a lot more money to occur [without this bond issue], and there's not a community meeting I go to where people don't raise pedestrian trail and sidewalk issues. It's an important thing in Fairfax County," Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay says.

"There is a $200 million need that exists out there. It's not like we sat around and came up with pedestrian projects we thought would be nice to do. They went through a long process, a detailed community involvement piece, and we ultimately agreed that we had a $200 million need for pedestrian improvements and this is a very strategic, good way to get moving on some of those things that our community really wants," McKay adds.

Supervisor Michael Frey challenged other members of the board to consider whether the bond issue will be approved.

"What we're saying to the public is that we want 85 percent of this bond to go to pedestrian projects. By the time you explain to them VDOT funds and the new transportation funding bill that was approved, and how much we're using with the C&I tax and everything else, they're gone, their eyes are glazed over, and they're looking at you like you're from outer space. And they're going to walk into the polls on Nov. 4, and they're going to see shall we encourage $100 million in debt, and $85 million of that is going to be for pedestrian projects, good luck on the education process, but I don't think that you can do it," the Sully district supervisor says.

Frey said most pedestrian projects are in the more urban area of the county.

"I think the message we're sending is that this is heavily prioritized for pedestrian projects at the expense of highway projects, and … I believe that it is to some extent at the expense of the western part of the county," he says.

But Board Chair Sharon Bulova says the reason the projects are concentrated in certain areas is based on need.

"We have new neighborhoods and we have new shopping centers and we have new extensions of roadway, and in those areas already there is existing pedestrian and bike facilities … some of the older areas of the county don't have that, some of the newer parts of the county the development community has built new neighborhoods and has included pedestrian and bike facilities on the newer roads because we require that," she says.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook raised his own concerns about priorities, but noted the board is moving to fund projects already on priority lists.

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