Rush hour is in full swing on Interstate 66 near Vienna, Va., going to the… (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty…)
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.
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 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 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.
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.