Transportation advocates will vie over which Northern Virginia projects are most worthy


Rush hour is in full swing on Interstate 66 near Vienna, Va., going to the western suburbs of Washington, D.C. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)
Robert Thomson
Columnist June 1, 2013

When there’s no money to spend, life is easy. Your grand plans cause no distress, because no one takes them seriously.

Money changes everything. Suddenly, people start looking your way. And they have needs.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

The government equivalent is the spot now occupied by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The authority has been around for more than 10 years, but it suddenly has that nouveau riche look. It has tens of millions of dollars to hand out, thanks to the state’s new transportation spending law, which will funnel money to the authority after the law takes effect July 1. And the relatives are lining up.

This is a primer on the authority and the spending decisions its members plan to make very soon.

The authority

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s turf covers Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park. It has 14 voting members appointed by those jurisdictions or by the General Assembly and governor. Two nonvoting members represent the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

It’s something like Metro, another regional authority with an appointed, rather than elected, board. But Metro runs trains and buses. The transportation authority might turn out to be more like a foundation that doles out grants to recipients deemed worthy.

Its project selections are supposed to be guided by state law, which puts a premium on projects that reduce congestion, and by its own long-range plan, called TransAction 2040.

Just as the Metro board members sometimes jostle over the competing interests of their urban and suburban jurisdictions, the transportation authority board will have to meld the interests of communities as diverse as Alexandria and Loudoun. One urban community’s bus shelter improvements might look like a local frill to an outer suburban, while the outer suburban’s roadway-widening idea might look like a congestion-booster to a community nearer the region’s core.

And the authority must coordinate its spending program with statewide road and transit spending overseen by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which held a Northern Virginia hearing on its own six-year plan Wednesday. The board is the biggest player in transportation spending decisions.

The money

The General Assembly set aside a portion of the new transportation revenue for distribution through the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Fund. Of that portion, 70 percent is supposed to go for regional projects, while the localities divide up the rest. The transportation authority must decide how to spend the regional money.

The state estimates that will be $1.9 billion over six years, but nobody really knows yet because the state won’t collect a dime of the new revenue until July 1. The authority has a six-year program, but it wants to advance some projects that are ready to spend money.

The authority’s working theory is that it will have about $190 million to allocate for the first year, and it has created a list of projects that could spend about that amount. Here’s the authority’s breakdown.

By type: $108.8 million for what are classified as roadway projects, $78.7 million for what are classified as transit or multi-modal projects, including enhancements for cyclists and walkers. Total: $187.5 million.

By jurisdiction or agency as prime beneficiary: Alexandria, $6.4 million; Arlington, $18.8 million; Fairfax City, $5 million; Fairfax County, $74.2 million; Falls Church, $1.7 million; Loudoun, $29.3 million; Prince William, $28 million; Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, $580,000; Virginia Railway Express, $10.7 million; Metro, $12 million; Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, $838,000.

Project distribution

Thirty-three projects are proposed in the first fiscal year; 12 are roadway, and 21 are transit or multi-modal. By expense, the authority figures, that’s 58 percent for roadways, and the rest for the transit and multi-modal projects.

The authority says projects were chosen largely because they meet these criteria: They would reduce congestion; they are in the TransAction 2040 regional plan; they are ready or close to ready to spend the money; and they might be able to take advantage of other financing sources. The authority also looked favorably on projects that would increase transit capacity and sought a balance among all transportation modes.

What follows is a sampler of the projects that could receive funding. The funding could be for planning, engineering, right-of-way acquisition, construction or purchase. The sampler illustrates aspects of the spending proposal. The full list of projects is on the authority’s Web site, www.thenovaauthority.org.

Sample projects

●Reconstruction of the Boundary Channel Drive interchange at Interstate 395 in Arlington. The interchange is inadequate for today’s demands and for planned growth in Crystal City, according to planners.

●Improvements to Columbia Pike in Arlington, which will reconfigure travel and transit lanes, medians and left-turn lanes along 3.5 miles, from the Fairfax County line to South Joyce Street.

●Improving Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax City.

●Improvements to Route 28 in Fairfax County, widening the roadway from six to eight lanes southbound from the Dulles Toll Road to Route 50 and northbound from McLearen Road to the Dulles Toll Road.

●Improvements to Herndon Parkway intersections at Van Buren Street and Sterling Road in Fairfax County.

●Spot improvements to Route 28 between Sterling Boulevard and the Dulles Toll Road in Loudoun.

●Widening and dividing Route 28 between Linton Hall Road and Fitzwater Drive in Prince William.

●Addition of five buses to Alexandria’s DASH fleet.

●Providing real-time transit information for DASH and Metrobus shelters.

●Completing planning for a Potomac Yard Metrorail station.

●Addition of four buses to Arlington’s ART fleet.

●Addition of lighting to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near East Falls Church Metro station.

●Design of a second VRE platform at the Lorton station.

Public involvement

An open house to discuss the first round is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Hall Council Work Room, 301 King St., Alexandria. Another will be held at 7 p.m. June 12 at the Old Manassas Courthouse, 9248 Lee Ave., Manassas. A third open house is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 26 at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Pkwy.

An open house and public hearing are scheduled for June 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the City Hall Council Chambers in Fairfax City, 10455 Armstrong St. The authority is planning to hold a second public hearing in July, with details to be worked out. People can e-mail comments about the plans to fy14projects@thenovaauthority.org.

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