Virginia Department of Transportation staffers reviewed hundreds of projects to develop their scores. (VDOT image)

The Virginia state government on Thursday took its first crack at a system meant to take some of the politics out of picking transportation projects.

The program uses a scoring system, measuring such factors as congestion relief, safety improvement and economic stimulus and efficient land use, to rate 300 projects proposed by local and regional agencies. The total cost of all the proposals is about $7 billion. The state has about $1.7 billion to spend.

Having a wish list much bigger than the piggy bank’s capacity is nothing unusual. The new factor is a transportation law commonly referred to as House Bill 2, which was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in 2014.

“This new law is revolutionizing the way transportation projects are selected,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “Political wish lists of the past are replaced with a data-driven process that is objective and transparent, making the best use of renewed state funding received in 2013 and the recently approved federal transportation funding. Each project is scored based on its merits and value.”

Yet it remains to be seen whether the final result is based purely on data. The Commonwealth Transportation Board, Virginia’s policy-making panel on transportation, has until June to incorporate a final list of projects into a long-range construction plan. Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said the goal in presenting the list of rated projects to the board on Tuesday was to give plenty of time for the board, the public and the General Assembly to review the complex results and propose adjustments in the rankings.

Scoring the highest statewide for “project benefit” were a plan to add high-occupancy toll lanes to Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway, a widening of Interstate 64 in the Hampton Roads area, the proposed extension of the Virginia Railway Express to Gainesville and Haymarket, construction of a west entrance at the Ballston Metrorail station and the widening and extension of Telegraph Road and Summit School Road in Prince William County. To see a full list along with rankings, go to this page and click on HB2 Project Scores in PDF.

In April and May, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will hold public hearings on the funding recommendations and any proposed revisions that have been developed. Then the board will approve a final spending plan in June.