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Fairfax County is planning a major outreach effort to try to engage the public in a discussion about the shortage of funding for transportation projects.

The county has an estimated $8.1 billion in projects it thinks are needed to provide congestion relief during the next decade, and it anticipates about $5.1 billion in revenues from its existing funding sources, leaving a deficit of about $300 million per year.

County officials are planning a series of nine public meetings starting next week, as well as a survey to educate residents about the problem and to gather input about what the county should do to resolve the issue.

In reviewing the planned presentation materials for the upcoming public meetings Tuesday, supervisors also encouraged Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny to be as blunt as possible with the public in explaining the shortage of transportation dollars.

“We are going to hit a transportation cliff faster than we hit the federal cliff,” said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully), referencing the potential federal spending cuts. “We cannot be blunt enough.”

Road construction and maintenance are primarily a state responsibility in Virginia, and state revenues for construction have been declining for years. There has been no state funding available for secondary road construction since fiscal 2010.

It is projected that, without additional revenues, the state will be putting all of its transportation dollars into highway maintenance by fiscal 2017.

The county spends about $280 million per year from local funds on transportation projects. The money is raised through an 11-cent real estate tax on commercial and industrial properties, as well as bonds, special tax districts to fund certain projects, developer contributions and general tax revenue.

As part of the outreach effort, the county has identified 20 potential sources for additional tax revenues for transportation, such as a meals tax, sales tax, income tax, commercial parking fees and vehicle registration fees. Some of them would require approval from the General Assembly to enact.

County transportation staff also planned to give people the option of saying they would rather see the list of projects scaled back, rather than finding a way to generate additional revenues. However, some supervisors objected to listing that as an option.

“Going back to no transportation investment ... that is not an option,” said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com