Priority Local Funding List of Proposed NVTA Projects
by: Rob Whitfield (Also Posted in the Fairfax Times)
Governor McDonnell’s Transportation Funding bill approved by the General Assembly last month provides new local taxing authority for regional and local transportation projects. As a result, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority may fund some $300 million in projects annually.
NVTA recently completed a regional transportation plan update, TransAction 2040, which serves as the basis for identifying and selecting project funding priorities. At an April 2012 public meeting on TransAction 2040 held in Falls Church, only a dozen observers attended plus a similar number of government officials.At that time, the preferred project options had not been identified as traffic modeling was underway. No widespread notice of document availability or any public hearing occurred on the draft TransAction 2040 plan prior to the NVTA Board meeting adopting a Final Plan in November 2012. The report itself was prepared by staff and consultants retained by the Arlington County based Northern Virginia Transportation Commission as the NVTA has not had funding to conduct its operations in recent years. As a result, the report reflects the pro transit bias of NVTC rather than offering an objective, comprehensive priority assessment of overall transportation needs and priorities.
At a NVTA meeting last week, Jurisdiction and Agency Coordinating Committee staff proposed 26 priority transit projects but only 16 highway projects for funding in FY 2014. It was most troubling to be told that the JACC had met privately without public notice earlier in the day to select the 42 preferred projects. At this time, the list of 42 projects being considered presented at the April 25 meeting are not available for public review online. In Fairfax County, highway funding proposed includes: widening and spot improvements for sections of Route 28, widening Route 29 west of Fairfax City plus design for several projects including Braddock Road HOV lanes between Burke Lake Road and the Capital Beltway. No mention is made of funding for design or construction for street grid and other needed projects in Tysons or Reston near Metrorail stations. Nor is funding mentioned for widening Route 7 between Reston and Tysons and the Fairfax County Parkway between Route 50 and the Dulles Toll Road.
The NVTA authorizing legislation, Virginia General Assembly SB 576 in 2002, and minor amendments made thereafter, reference a Technical Advisory Committee but no mention is made of the JACC. What legal authority did JACC have to make project selections? Private decision making meetings do not build public confidence in the objectivity and fairness of the NVTA project priority and selection process. Given new local taxpayer funding being levied for NVTA projects, a greater level of local accountability is needed from public officials and staff.
Without a formal public input process beforehand, NVTA plans to cut the proposed funding list to a dozen or so projects by its next Board meeting on May 23. The Authority plans to hold a public hearing in June after further cutting the list of proposed projects.This is a case of placing the cart before the horse.
The public needs additional information to consider funding priorities. The following information was requested from NVTA Chairman Martin Nohe:
- The jurisdiction – county, city or town – for each proposed project. Indicate if projects are in multiple jurisdictions.
- A synopsis of each project, its design status and estimated total capital costs plus projected annual operating revenue and costs.
- The estimated funding share to be provided by NVTA, the amounts already committed and/or appropriated by federal, state and local jurisdictions as well as regional transportation bodies such as Washington Metro Area Transit Authority within their adopted budgets.
- Links to the relevant sections of adopted county, city, town or transportation body comprehensive, transportation and capital plans.
- Information regarding projected contribution of each proposed project to reduction of traffic congestion and/or other improved mobility benefit.
- A cost benefit analysis of each proposed project in light of current and projected economic and demographic conditions.
- Any other information about potential public benefits and potential detriments -short term and long term.
- Information about any constraints or approvals required as a pre-condition of NVTA funding.
- The likely project final design completion date, construction bid and start date, the time-frame for construction and estimated completion date.
If NVTA wishes to build public trust in its decision making process, the Authority must hold public hearings in several jurisdictions. It must also justify and document reasons for disproportionate preference given to transit projects over highways. Well over 85% of all Northern Virginians rely on highways for commuting and other travel purposes. As an immediate priority, NVTA must publicly explain and justify the purpose, legal authority, membership and membership selection process for the Jurisdiction and Agency Coordinating Committee.
Supplemental Comments for Loudoun County:
In contrast to proposed priority transportation projects in several other jurisdictions, the NVTA Loudoun County transportation project priority list does not appear disproportionate. Other significant Loudoun highway improvements are to be funded in the VDOT Six Year Capital Improvements Plan including interchanges at Sycolin Road in Leesburg and Route 7 and Route 659, Belmont Ridge Road.
Loudoun is reserving 2 cents from the approved current tax rate for fiscal 2014 to help fund local road improvements including the County share of widening of Route 606 on the west side of Dulles Airport. Loudoun County will also be able to fund other road projects from the 30% local share of local tax increases in addition to its share of the 70% regional funds to be managed by NVTA.
The following Loudoun County projects were included in the preliminary first year funding project list provided to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority on April 25, 2013.
Roadway Projects (in no particular order):
4. Belmont Ridge Road from Gloucester Parkway to Portsmouth Blvd.
5. Belmont Ridge Road from Portsmouth Blvd to Hay Road.
7. Route 28 Hot Spot improvement – Sterling Boulevard to Dulles Toll Road
15. Route 15/Edwards Ferry Interchange -Design
Transit Projects (in no particular order)
25. Loudoun County Transit Service Expansion (2 buses)
26. Leesburg Park and Ride Land Acquisition