Before new millions flow, final preparations for Northern Virginia Transportation Authority


(Jahi Chikwendiu/TWP)

After a long financial drought, final preparations are underway for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to begin spending millions in new revenues starting this summer.

The authority released a barrage of new details this week about its draft list of 32 road and transit projects totaling $187 million for this year, and members heard from business interests, environmentalists, state legislators and local residents.

On Thursday night, the authority also voted to have a financial adviser analyze the financial implications of issuing bonds to try to amplify the authority’s impact. The upside of such an arrangement, according to advocates, is that the authority could leverage its revenues to fund more projects more quickly. Among the downsides: such borrowing costs money.

Members of the authority sought to put a realistic gloss on expectations as the body gets going.

“I never thought the day would come when I’d say $190 million isn’t as much as it seems like,” said Martin E. Nohe, authority chairman and a Republican supervisor from Prince William County. Addressing Northern Virginia’s transportation woes is a multibillion dollar endeavor, he said.

Del. James M. LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) told members at an authority hearing in the City of Fairfax Thursday they would be better off dramatically cutting down their list to just a handful of congestion-relief projects, rather than dozens of smaller projects. “The authority has a limited bandwidth,” he said.

Jeff Fairfield, who serves on the Route 28 Highway Transportation Improvement District, pressed to make the roadway a top authority priority. The public-private partnership between government and landowners has made big improvements, but “the success of these efforts has been limited by the current inadequate roadway capacity, particularly in the peak periods,” he said. An influx of new dollars would bring about even more private investment, Fairfield added.

“There are very few, if any, projects in the Commonwealth that can demonstrate such a tremendous public benefit for such a small public investment,” he said.

Roger Diedrich, the transportation chair for the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, said he was pleased with the significant transit investments offered in the authority’s initial project list.

His group is eying impacts on climate change, and he asked the authority to maintain its current split of 42 percent for transit and 58 percent of spending for road projects.

“We’re pretty happy with the list. It sort of surprised us,” Diedrich said in an interview. “We’re worried other parties are going to try to impose some shifts between now and July.”

The authority expects to finalize its project list and release its final draft list July 10, ahead of a last public hearing July 24, also at the City of Fairfax’s city hall. Then they’re expected to take a formal vote. Projects could launch later this year.

“Let’s put the money to work as quickly as possible so people who are starting to pay taxes and fees can see the results of their investment,” said Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D).

Mike Laris came to Post by way of Los Angeles and Beijing. He’s written about the world’s greatest holstein bull, earth’s biggest pork producer, home builders, the homeless, steel workers and Italian tumors.

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Mark Berman · June 20, 2013