Editorial: Piggy Bank or Partner?

Plans to alter the I-66 commutes for Northern Virginians, both inside and outside the beltway, have cleared major regulatory hurdles in recent weeks—all over the objections of Loudoun County representatives.

Loudoun’s members on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission were in the minority in opposing Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to allow toll-paying, single-occupancy vehicles to use the highway inside the Capitol Beltway during rush hours.

County representatives were also on the losing side in last week’s Northern Virginia Transportation Authority vote to earmark up to $403 million of its bond capacity to help fund the widening of I-66 outside the Beltway.

In both cases, the county’s representatives argued the projects penalized Loudouners.

The fight over McAuliffe’s inside-the-Beltway plan will continue in the General Assembly. Some bills are in the works to force the toll funds to be used to widen the highway. As it stands now, toll revenue will be used primarily for street improvements in Fairfax and Arlington counties. Other proposals would block the toll plan altogether.

During the NVTA debate, Loudoun’s representatives warned regional leaders that they were endorsing the budgetary sleight of hand they worked to prohibit when the landmark regional transportation funding bill was being hammered out in the General Assembly. The concern is that Northern Virginia would see its share of state and federal transportation dollars eroded and the money generated by extra taxes and fees area residents pay used as a substitute. The regional funds are intended to address the backlog of transportation improvement needs more quickly than the pace of state and federal funding would otherwise allow. However, diverting that money to relieve Congress of its responsibility to maintain the federal interstate highway system undermines that pact.

The votes highlight another concern, as well. Loudoun County has long been on the fringe of the Metropolitan Washington power circle. The county is playing a larger role in regional issues—a role that will greatly expand once the Silver Line extension is complete. However, in many ways it is still sitting at the kids’ table when the representatives of the inner suburbs gather to conduct big people’s business. That was evident in both the NVTC and NVTA votes. Loudouners are on the hook to pay tolls and regional taxes, but they have a smaller voice in how that money is spent. That needs to be better balanced.

The danger is that Loudoun can be viewed more as a piggy bank than as a partner. Experience has shown that it is only through solid partnerships that regional leaders ever really achieve their goals.

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