In the world of transportation infrastructure, $5 million will run out faster than a driver’s patience in rush-hour traffic, but it could still leave a worthwhile dent in Fairfax County’s massive backlog of safety and maintenance projects.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed collective support on Tuesday (March 1) for a proposal to spend $5 million on bicycle and pedestrian improvements to address maintenance needs, add crosswalks, and other small but straightforward and relatively cheap projects.
“Given the magnitude of projects we have, we know it’s scratching the surface of the larger problem,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the transportation committee meeting. “But certainly, we need to make the money start working as quickly as we can, and also as equitably as we can.”
The $5 million is intended to be the first step in a longer-term plan to commit at least $100 million over six years to currently unfunded projects that will improve bicycle and pedestrian accessibility and safety. The board directed staff to identify potential projects on Oct. 5.
Using raw data and some input from community groups, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation has compiled lists of 200 to 500 requests for each magisterial district, Active Transportation Program Manager Chris Wells told the board.
To whittle those lists down, county staff will first identify high-priority projects using map-based data that can take into account a number of factors, including high-risk corridors, pedestrian and bicyclist demand, socioeconomic disparities, and proximity to schools and transit.
“If they don’t fall in those high-priority locations, we know we don’t have the resources available to us to solve all of the problems immediately, so we want to move forward with the best projects we can for consideration,” Wells said.
Staff will then get feedback from the board and the public, followed by further analysis of the benefits and costs of each project to determine which ones will be feasible and most effective.
While money may be available for larger projects in the future, Wells advised using the initial $5 million to address short-term needs, such as crosswalks, which are often in the county’s right-of-way, and facility maintenance.
The Fairfax County Park Authority and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services both have millions of dollars worth of backlogged projects, some of which could be done quickly and produce immediate results, according to Wells.
The park authority, for instance, has approximately 40 bridges that need to be replaced.
“I think that’s a good, efficient use of money,” Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said of using the $5 million to address existing facilities. “We always want to go new projects, but we want to make sure the stuff we’ve got can be used.”
For new construction projects, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross noted that future maintenance costs will need to be considered as part of the budget, something that she says has sometimes been overlooked in the past.
“It’s not fair to our various agencies for the board to say this needs to be fixed but not provide the funding for the fix,” she said.
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