Fairfax ponders control of local roads

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley
Fairfax County residents frustrated by potholes and overgrown grass can't take their complaints to the county. That's because their roads are controlled by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

And for one Fairfax supervisor, it's time that changed.

"The roads are in bad shape, and they're getting worse," Supervisor John Cook, R-Braddock, said. "In 47 states the local government authority runs the local road system. It just makes sense because you're the local entity that's closest to the people and regularly works with that kind of detail."

Local control of roads has become a hot issue in Cook's campaign for re-election against Democrat Janet Oleszek. But the idea has been tossed around for years, and county officials are wary of change.

"The bottom line every time is that it would be extraordinarily expensive for Fairfax County to assume that responsibility," County Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova, D-At large, said.

Virginia cities control their own roads, as do Arlington and Henrico counties, which worked out agreements with the state in the 1930s.

But Fairfax officials say they can't afford to control their own roads until the state rewrites a funding formula that classifies most of the county as suburban or rural, giving it fewer tax dollars to patch roads. Arlington receives about $16,000 per lane mile per year, while Fairfax gets around $6,000 per lane mile, according to Cook.

But the state isn't likely to rewrite that formula to favor Fairfax, Oleszek campaign manager Ben Tribbett said.

"Downstate interests are never going to allow Fairfax County to have 100 percent of what was raised here. And anyone who implies that is ignorant of the last 50 years of state policies," Tribbett said.

The state isn't necessarily opposed to turning the roads over to Fairfax. Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said "devolution" of local roads is just one solution the state is considering to solve its budget woes. A VDOT study released this summer marked nearly a third of the state's secondary roads as deficient, up from 24 percent in 2007.

Bulova said a state-led turnover wouldn't be good for Fairfax.

"It's the equivalent of an old car running out of gas and the state pushing it into the driveway of the county and saying, 'Here, take it. It's yours,'" she said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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