Rush-hour traffic crowds Interstate 66 near the Vienna Metro station in Virginia. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
Columnist

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has become a major player in financing road, transit and other transportation projects in the Washington region.

Martin Nohe, chairman of the authority, says that over the past three years, the panel has provided nearly $1 billion for 79 projects, including road improvements to Route 28, Route 1 and Belmont Ridge Road, as well as capacity improvements to Metro, Virginia Railway Express and most of Northern Virginia’s commuter bus systems.

But because it doesn’t build and operate stuff, the authority’s role is still a bit obscure.

Nohe was my guest for an online chat Monday. This is an edited transcript of our conversation. The first prompt is from me; the rest are from readers.

Dr. Gridlock: The transportation authority is involved in long-range planning as well as spending. Please talk about the authority’s role in developing the latest TransAction program.

Nohe: We are halfway through a major update to TransAction, NVTA’s long-range transportation plan.

Some of our initial analysis is scary. By 2040, congestion may be 70 percent worse than today. Transit crowding may be much worse, too. This is because population and employment are forecast to keep growing. This is great for the regional economy, but we must address some significant transportation issues.

NVTA cannot fund projects that are not included in TransAction. Therefore, it’s really important that we hear from Northern Virginians and from people who live outside the region but who work in Northern Virginia about the transportation priorities they want the authority to address.

The easiest way for people to provide their input is through our online survey at nvtatransaction.org. [The authority’s website is thenovaauthority.org .]

Q: Please clarify whether NVTA is still putting forward $300 million for the I-66/Route 28 interchange improvements. Hasn’t the private concessionaire [on the I-66 HOT lanes project outside the Capital Beltway] agreed to pay for that?

Nohe: The NVTA approved $300 million for improvements to the I-66/Route 28 interchange, which is needed whether the I-66 express lanes project moves forward or not.

You are correct that the concessionaire for the I-66 project has committed to build this interchange, so presumably, those NVTA funds will not be needed.

We have not yet de-allocated those funds, because the final closing on the project has not taken place, and it could — at least theoretically — still fall apart.

Q: What can be done to make people like the Metro and public transportation again, if they ever did?

Nohe: What I have found over the years is that while people complain about specific public transit services, their real complaint is much bigger.

Whether it is by Metro, by bus, by train or by car, what people really want is just a better way to get to work and then home to their families.

So the challenges Metro has experienced, as well as the congestion on our roads, are really just symptoms of the bigger problem of needing better connectivity and mobility.

The NVTA’s TransAction plan is being updated with a focus on reducing congestion and giving Northern Virginians their time back. To that end, we have invested millions in new buses, new bus maintenance facilities, Virginia Railway Express and capital improvements for Metro, all of which are done to provide commuters with more choices and find the solution that works best for them.

Q: I’ve heard you remark several times that people in Northern Virginia talk about traffic the way people in other parts of the world talk about the weather. I think that’s only half true.

I live in Fairfax. Yes, people in Fairfax talk about traffic all the time. But people in Arlington don’t. It doesn’t dictate their lives, because they have choices in how to get where they need to go. I am concerned we will focus on shortsighted solutions that will only make the problem worse.

Nohe: The NVTA agrees that many of our problems are not solved through huge projects. That is why we evaluate projects on a number of criteria, starting with the measure “congestion relief relative to cost.”

This allows smaller projects to compete with big ones, because often, the smaller ones can actually provide the most bang for the buck.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or ­email drgridlock@washpost.com.