News and Views

Fairfax County Times : Fairfax County transportation projects receive $531 million from region

The NVTA’s Fiscal Year 2018-2023 Six Year Program allocated 41.3 percent, or $531 million, of $1.285 billion in available funds toward nine different projects in Fairfax County, including the widening of Route 28 and three projects related to Richmond Highway.

“The county is very pleased to be able to have the additional revenues to advance transportation projects throughout the county,” Fairfax County Department of Transportation director Tom Biesiadny said.

After allocating revenue on an annual basis for multiple years, the NVTA adopted its inaugural six-year plan on June 14, giving Northern Virginia leaders and agencies a longer-range view of the region’s transportation infrastructure needs.

The FY 2018-2023 Six Year Program includes $250 million toward the bus rapid transit system planned for the Richmond Highway corridor from the Huntington Metro Station to Fort Belvoir, along with $127 million for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s anticipated widening of Route 1 from four to six lanes.

Richmond Highway received another $12 million that Fairfax County will use to increase the clearance of an underpass beneath the CSX railroad tracks in Lorton.

Other major Fairfax County projects included in the NVTA’s six-year funding package include the Route 28 widening, which has been allocated $16 million, and the widening of Fairfax County Parkway from Ox Road to Lee Highway, which will receive $67 million.

NVTA also allocated $25 million to cover the right-of-way for VDOT’s Frontier Drive extension project, $11.1 million toward widening Rolling Road from two to four lanes, and $20.6 million to build a Rock Hill Road Bridge over the Dulles Toll Road connecting Sunrise Valley Drive to Innovation Avenue in Loudoun County.

The $2.3 million allocated in the Six Year Program toward a new parking garage on Mill Street in the Town of Vienna will cover half the cost of that project, which still needs to be approved by the town council, according to Inside NOVA.

While the revenue granted by NVTA will not fully cover the costs of these projects, the allocated funds still allow Fairfax County and VDOT to make meaningful progress on all of them, even if they will need other sources of funding as well, Biesiadny says.

The NVTA Six Year Program includes funding for 44 transportation projects across the region, including the nine from Fairfax County.

Created by Virginia’s General Assembly on July 1, 2002, the NVTA provides transportation project planning and funding for the nine jurisdictions that make up Northern Virginia, including the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Arlington, as well as the cities of Fairfax, Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

Since it was a relatively new organization, the authority funded projects on a year-to-year basis, as its members and staff developed and refined their policies and decision-making processes, according to NVTA chairman and Prince William County Supervisor Martin E. Nohe.

After adopting an updated long-range transportation plan called TransAction on Oct. 12, 2017, the NVTA started developing its first six-year plan for allocating revenue, which comes from a dedicated funding stream established by the General Assembly on Apr. 3, 2013 with House Bill 2313.

H.B. 2313 stated that additional revenue generated in the Northern Virginia Planning District from an imposed retail sales tax increase would go toward NVTA, which is required to distribute 30 percent of the funds to member localities and 70 percent to regional transportation projects.

NVTA has provided more than $690 million for 78 transportation projects since the General Assembly gave it a dedicated funding source. The FY 2018-2023 Six Year Program raises that total to $1.975 billion in transportation investments for 122 projects.

“It is an honor to be part of this historic milestone for the Authority,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors chair and NVTA vice-chairman Phyllis Randall said. “The 44 projects in our first Six Year Program will deliver major improvements throughout the region that will not just relieve congestion but improve the quality of life for all Northern Virginians.”

The NVTA’s switch from annual revenue distribution to a six-year program helps localities like Fairfax County, because it allows them to plan better while also providing a larger funding package to work with, according to Biesiadny.

“If NVTA was allocating annually, they would only have about $200 million to allocate, so you would need to take a number of different years’ worth of allocations to make up the type of funding that we need for those three projects on Richmond Highway,” Biesiadny said. “But when you look at it over a six-year period, you’re allocating $1.285 billion. Then, you have the ability to fund some larger projects over that period of time.”

According to Nohe, the NVTA determined which projects to fund in the first Six Year Program primarily based on the amount of congestion they will relieve relative to their cost, but safety and environmental impacts as well as regional significance were also considered.

“We want to look at those projects which have an impact beyond the immediate neighborhood in which they’re being built,” Nohe said. “To be clear, that doesn’t mean we only build very large projects. Sometimes, a very small project can impact a very large number of people because it facilitates easier flow through a particular intersection or a particular highway.”

After narrowing the possibilities down to 60 candidate projects, the NVTA received more than 1,200 comments on the Six Year Program during a public outreach period from Apr. 13 through May 20.

The Six Year Program will first be updated in 2019 when the NVTA adds new projects or additional funding for existing projects using money from FY 2024 and 2025. The plan will be subsequently updated every two years.

While the adoption of a six-year program is a notable step forward for NVTA, the excitement of that achievement was dampened slightly by the loss of some revenue to the Metro system.

The General Assembly approved $154 million for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority on Mar. 10 to create a dedicated revenue stream for Metro for the first time, but an effort to increase hotel and real estate transfer taxes in Northern Virginia to pay for Metro’s new funding failed in the House of Delegates.

As a result, Virginia’s contribution to a $500 million regional deal with Washington, D.C., and Maryland to support Metro will come out of NVTA’s allocated revenue, reducing the funds available for the Six Year Program by $225 million.

“The NVTA has had a lot of frustration with the way in which the General Assembly approved funding for Metro,” Nohe said. “…That doesn’t mean it’s not important to fund Metro, but I think it’s valuable to understand that Metro was funded at the expense of some other very important transit and highway projects.”

$225 million might not seem like a significant amount of money compared to the nearly $1.3 billion that the NVTA was able to delegate with its Six Year Program, but every dollar makes a difference with Northern Virginia facing $40 billion in identified transportation needs, according to Nohe.

For instance, Nohe says that he hoped the costs of the Route 28 widening would be entirely covered by NVTA money. Now, the massive, multi-phase project involving both Fairfax and Prince William Counties will have to rely to some extent on state funding.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword, I would say,” Biesiadny said. “We’ve accomplished, as a region, the $500 million for Metro, and Metro is the region’s number one transportation priority, but it came at a cost of not allowing us to advance as many of our local projects as we otherwise might have advanced.”

Read the full article and more in the Fairfax County Times. 

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