A Citizen’s Guide to the March 25 Transportation Hearing

3.19.15

A Citizen’s Guide to the March 25 Transportation Hearing

- OpEd by Jim LeMunyon, Fairfax Times, March 17, 2015 -

Times reporter Kali Schumitz provided good coverage in last week’s newspaper (March 13-15, 2015) of the transportation projects recently proposed for funding by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). I encourage citizens to attend the March 25 hearing at NVTA’s office at 3040 Williams Drive in Fairfax to comment on the proposed project list.

As the Times story noted, transportation projects are now being rated to determine which ones offer the most congestion relief. This is being done according to H.B. 599, which became law in 2012. I authored this bipartisan bill along with Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax). This law requires that projects offering the most congestion relief be funded on a priority basis.

Unfortunately, some of the projects that offer the most congestion relief are not on the list made available for public comment. The public ought to be told which of these best congestion-reducing projects were excluded and why.

Thirty-seven Northern Virginia projects have been rated so far. Another law, H.B. 2313 (2013) specifies that the NVTA “shall give priority to selecting projects that are expected to provide the greatest congestion reduction relative to the cost of the project and shall document this information for each project selected.” But no such documentation has been provided to the public by NVTA. I’ve posted the information at www.LeMunyon.com. Click on “transportation projects.”

The following six projects were rated best among the 37 for short term and long term congestion relief relative to tax dollar cost. But only the first two appear on the NVTA’s list for the March 25 hearing.

• Loudoun County Parkway extension to U.S. 50 in Loudoun

• Glebe Road Corridor Intelligent Transportation System in Arlington

• Northstar Blvd. extension near Brambleton in Loudoun

• Route 28 widening near Centreville

• I-395 Southbound widening in Alexandria

• Rolling Road widening near Springfield

These six projects combined are estimated to put 47,000 hours of time each weekday back into the lives of Northern Virginia residents by reducing congestion.

The NVTA hearing announcement indicates that projects proposed for comment could be started in the next couple of years. So perhaps it’s possible that some of the best projects can’t be started right away due to required engineering, environmental studies, land acquisition, etc. If so, the NVTA should simply say so.

But the majority of projects included on the list for public comment on March 25 are transit projects, many of which can’t be started during the next couple of years either. These transit projects haven’t been evaluated for their congestion relief benefit. In fairness, the capability to evaluate transit projects in this way is only becoming available this year.

Even without a congestion rating, the law requires that only “mass transit capital projects that increase capacity” receive funds. More buses? Sure. Storage facilities and garages? No. But these are on the list of proposed projects.

If the projects can’t be started in the short term, what are they doing on the list for funding now? NVTA should offer them for public comment when the ratings are available. In the meantime, tax dollars should be directed to projects that can make a difference right away.

The fact that such transit projects are included for public comment now, while NVTA is not seeking comments on roadway projects with clearly defined congestion reduction benefits, makes the NVTA look unserious about congestion relief.

Just last month the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation unanimously (H.B. 1470) requiring Northern Virginia’s transit projects to be rated for their congestion relief benefits, effective July 2016.

It looks like the NVTA is trying to beat this deadline by stuffing the list with transit projects. If so, it would allow these projects to be funded without ever having to tell the public that some projects, if rated, wouldn’t reduce congestion very much. I’m sorry to sound cynical, but this is exactly what I and other legislators feared when we passed H.B. 1470 just a few weeks ago with a July 2016 effective date.

At the March 25 hearing, let’s insist that the NVTA fix the list so that tax dollars are directed to transportation projects that provide the most congestion relief relative to cost as the law requires, common sense dictates, and as the traveling, taxpaying public deserves.

I hope to see you on March 25.

Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-Dist. 67) represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun in the Virginia House of Delegates.

http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/article/20150317/OPINION/150319464&template=fairfaxTimes

###