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Developer Dollars

Published by Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter, December, 1997

EVERY WEEKDAY, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF commuters from Northern Virginia slowly merge onto Interstate 95 and begin their sluggish trek to Washington, D.C. and its satellite business areas -- only to crawl wearily back home after a day at the office. In the outer suburbs and rural areas, residents find their taxes climbing as the public costs of providing services to sprawl development outstrip tax revenues from new homes and businesses. Smog hovers over the Blue Ridge. Streams swell with polluted run-off from roads and parking lots. And in the older suburbs, the quality of community life declines as public infrastructure erodes and neighbors and businesses flee for supposedly greener pastures.

Such chronic, interconnected problems are forcing many citizens to wonder who's running Northern Virginia. Surely, voters never asked their government to create more pollution, more traffic jams, and higher taxes.

As the evidence presented in this report makes clear, planning and growth policy in Northern Virginia have been heavily influenced by a network of strategy groups and PACs representing those who have most to gain from unmitigated sprawl: road builders, real estate developers, and the industries that depend upon them.

These special-interest groups don't merely lobby the process -- they stack the political deck by pumping large sums of money into local and municipal elections, often under the cover of blandly-named political action committees. Shrewdly, the developers have targeted key elections at the county level, where crucial decisions are made daily about planning, zoning, infrastructure, and taxes.

The pages that follow discuss the Western Transportation Corridor (WTC), the latest superhighway project that threatens to despoil Virginia's historic countryside -- while adding to commuters'frustrations, taxpayers'burdens, and stresses on natural resources.

There are alternative solutions to Northern Virginia's problems of transportation and community planning, but unless the public acts against the manipulation of Northern Virginia's political system by self-serving development interests, those alternatives will never have a fair hearing.

The sponsors of this report offer this research to the press and the public to shed light on the process by which developers have manipulated Northern Virginia's local governments.

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