Spotsylvania officials speak out against regional approach to transportation

by | Mar 27, 2024 | ALLFFP, Government, Spotsylvania, Traffic

Most of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors made it clear during a meeting Tuesday night they have no interest in joining a Regional Transportation Authority with Fredericksburg as well as Stafford, King George and Caroline counties.  

While Battlefield District representative Chris Yakabouski and Deborah Frazier of the Salem District left open the possibility if more information demonstrates that it will be beneficial to the county, others stated explicitly they do not support the idea. 

Lee Hill District representative Lori Hayes made a motion to send a letter to the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization stating the board’s stance against being included in an RTA.  

Hayes, however, withdrew the motion as board members agreed they should wait for at least one more FAMPO meeting before making their intentions known. 

Spotsylvania officials said they are concerned about the possibility of joining an RTA because the transportation needs of the localities vary in nature; the county’s taxpayers could pay a disproportionate amount compared to the revenue generated; Supervisors also intimated that such a pact could be used to pay for individual pet projects rather than overarching regional issues. 

Hayes said the RTA could potentially give the county more buying power to complete pressing road projects, but she is also concerned about adding another tax to residents. She opined that RTAs in Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia make sense because those localities are more interconnected than the Fredericksburg area. 

“We have very different views on what needs to get done from Spotsylvania to Stafford to King George,” Hayes said. “King George and Caroline, they are totally different from us in what their needs are. I don’t feel like we have a cohesive agenda enough with this. I don’t feel like it would be the right thing to do at this juncture.” 

Hayes represents Spotsylvania on the FAMPO board, along with Yakabouski and Courtland District representative Drew Mullins. 

Hayes said it was time to bring her concerns about the RTA to the entire Spotsylvania board because, at the most recent FAMPO meeting, she saw the “train leaving the station” and eventually the entity coming to fruition. 

Yakabouski noted that the supervisors may be powerless to stop it if the General Assembly passes legislation requiring an RTA. The board also proposed sending a letter to state representatives voicing their displeasure with the possibility. 

County Attorney Karl Holsten told the board that potential legislation can dictate who is in and out of an RTA. He said the board needs to pressure the county’s state legislators into voting against a bill that would require them to join. 

FAMPO Executive Director Ian Ollis echoed Holsten’s interpretation, saying that only the General Assembly can implement any form of taxation, so an RTA would have to be approved by the state. 

FAMPO can request that a state legislator sponsors a bill to create a local RTA — an attempt that failed three previous times, most recently in 2023, Ollis said. 

“We all assume that legislators are not going to do whatever they want to do anyway,” Yakabouski said. “I would like to understand the last time they took our input and did what we asked them to do on such a big scale.

“So, I think it’s going to be forced upon us, and if it is going to be forced upon us, I’d like to have more input as to what it’s going to look like.” 

Ollis said most RTAs allocate a portion of transportation taxes back to the jurisdiction where the funds originated, and the balance goes to the RTA to support larger regional projects. 

FAMPO asked its localities to consider splits of 70% regionally and 30% locally or 60/40 or 50/50. Hayes said the majority prefer 60/40. 

Yakabouski requested that Hayes pump the brakes on making a motion to craft the letter to send to FAMPO. At the next FAMPO meeting, he said, the three supervisors can obtain more information on aspects of a potential agreement that they disagree with and will be better equipped to push back. 

Yakabouski said one concern he wants addressed is the potential use of the RTA for projects that aren’t inclusive of the entire region. 

“Fredericksburg is big on transit and bike paths and stuff — do it yourself,” Yakabouski said.  

Spotsylvania Director of Transportation Paul Agnello disagrees with the prospect of an RTA. Agnello agreed with Hayes that there is no common vision between the localities, highlighted by officials in Stafford and Fredericksburg pursuing a Rappahannock River crossing project that Spotsylvania isn’t inclined to support. 

However, Yakabouski said with an RTA there should be give and take. 

“Quite honestly, the county might not have wanted the bridge crossing, but I know Stafford … They don’t care about a Harrison Road interchange,” Yakabouski said. “So, it can’t be, ‘This is mine. That is yours.’ It needs to be ‘These are things that benefit all of us.’” 

Agnello and Mullins projected that revenue generated from three major projects — Kalahari Resorts, Amazon Web Services and a Veteran’s Affairs outpatient clinic — means that Spotsylvania could support its own transportation projects without an RTA. 

“The city and Stafford, they’re not in a great financial situation currently for transportation projects,” Agnello said. “The city just doesn’t have a lot of resources and Stafford committed money from its last bond referendum right before COVID and the cost of everything went way up. So, both of those localities are a bit cash-strapped relative to us … We expect our revenues to go up in the next few years when these developments come online.” 

Agnello also noted that the county is receiving less funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation for rural road projects compared to years past. Board Chair Jacob Lane of the Livingston District said because of that differential — $500,000 in prior years compared to $365,000 this year — he cannot support an RTA. 

“When we’re only getting $300,000 a year to improve our rural roads in this county, I’m not going to sign my residents up for a further tax that will go to the higher-density, higher-traveled, more-populated areas of not even just this county, but the region,” Lane said. “So, I’ve got to look out for my folks on the western side of the county, and I can’t sign us up for it.” 

Berkeley District representative Kevin Marshall said his answer to an RTA is “a flat-out no.” Marshall said an RTA is a tax increase on citizens “no matter how you spin it.” 

“It looks like it’s a very good chance a lot of the money won’t be spent here … I’d be concerned about getting involved with a regional taxing authority that rides on the backs of our citizens,” Marshall said. 

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