Bill to merge 3 N.Va. transit agencies worries officials

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 11:46 PM

If it's not broken, then don't fix it: That's the attitude some Northern Virginia transit officials have toward a bill in the state legislature that proposes to merge three major transit agencies in July 2012.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed a bill that calls for the consolidation of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.

"There are just too many cooks in the kitchen, so what this bill attempts to do is make one organization responsible," Albo said. "To me, the most important thing is you would have one place to go to get something done."

Albo said the bill follows a recommendation from a government restructuring committee appointed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). Collapsing three organizations into one, Albo said, would save money and be more effective.

Those close to the issue, however, say otherwise.

"Why break something that is working well?" asked Kala Quintana, NVTC's public outreach director. "This is something that may look good on paper by someone who doesn't have a fundamental knowledge of how we all work . . . but these are very different" agencies.

NVTC coordinates transit services throughout Northern Virginia, including Metro, Virginia Railway Express, Loudoun County commuter buses, the Fairfax Connector and other transit systems. PRTC is responsible for the bus system in Prince William County. NVTA serves as a transportation planning group, transit officials said.

Quintana said members of the three groups met with Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton last year when the proposal surfaced. But he reassured them that it was not a "huge priority," Quintana said.

"We didn't hear anything for a while, and we permitted ourselves to believe that would be the end of it, but it turned out it was not," said Al Harf, executive director of PRTC. "There is already a long and proud history of collaboration among these agencies, and this is a concern."

Connaughton said another bill, which calls on the state to dedicate 0.25 percent of the sales tax to NVTA, the organization that is proposed to absorb PRTC and NVTC, has put the issue back in the spotlight. He said Northern Virginia is the only area in the commonwealth that has multiple state-chartered transportation organizations.

"We welcome the idea of new funding, but there is no reason to reorganize . . . and create a behemoth of a bureaucracy to achieve this goal," Quintana said, noting she also questions what will suffer if sales tax money is shifted to it. "There is no reason they couldn't do that now with the existing infrastructure."

NVTA Chairman and Prince William Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said it's unclear what would be gained from a merger, because the three agencies have very different missions and responsibilities. What would be lost, he said, is the jurisdictional autonomy of the groups, which each comprise members from various Northern Virginia localities.

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