Funding highways and transit is a core state responsibility. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has a responsibility to invest regional transportation funds on highway and transit projects of greatest regional significance.
What You Need to Know About Transportation Funding
- Virginia operates the nation’s third largest state highway network with 68,000 miles and 12,000 bridges. Only Texas and North Carolina have bigger systems.
- Virginia’s highway network is aging and in a growing state of disrepair. VDOT’s latest pavement surface analysis finds that 19.7 percent of Virginia’s interstate lane miles and 22.4 percent of its primary roads lane miles have poor or very poor pavement surfaces. More alarming is the fact that 35.2 percent, or 27,808, of Virginia’s 79,000 lane-miles of secondary road pavements are deficient.
- Northern Virginia has added more than 1,000,000 people in the last 25 years and more vehicles than people.
- Demand on Northern Virginia’s network will continue to increase. In the next 25 years, Northern Virginia is projected to add 350,000 households (43%), 651,000 jobs (53%) and 918,000 people (42%).
- A constitutional amendment protecting the Transportation Trust Fund from being diverted to the General Fund will not protect construction dollars being diverted to maintenance and thus will not solve the problem. The TTF and HMOF should be separate with no transfers allowed. This would stop the drain on the TTF and force the General Assembly to fund maintenance.
- Public-private partnerships (PPTAs) are not enough. Private firms will only build new roads that can make a profit. Since most transportation projects are not profitable, PPTA options are limited. Most PPTAs requires some public funds. Virginia currently lacks funds to support an aggressive PPTA program. At best, PPTAs are estimated to be capable of meeting 20% of Virginia’s needs.
Passage of HB 2313 in 2013 means that over the next six years (2014–2020) Virginia will have about $3.5 billion in new state funds and Hampton Roads ($1.3 billion) and Northern Virginia ($1.9 billion) will have new regional funds that they didn’t have before.
The challenge is two-fold:
- First, to ensure that new (and existing) state and regional funds are invested wisely.
- Second, to recognize that new funding is only the first installment.
State and local officials must not lose sight of the fact ultimately more funding will be needed. While these new funds will most definitely make a difference, maintenance and construction backlogs are huge and beyond the ability of this new infusion of funds to address. To secure new funding in the future, the state and regions must invest wisely today.
The Importance of Choosing Wisely
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has approved a package of highway and transit projects for FY 2015 to FY 2016 regional transportation funding. VDOT has developed software to evaluate highway and transit projects on their ability to reduce congestion and improve homeland security evacuation. However, the next set of transit projects will be the first to be evaluated for congestion reduction and homeland security benefits. The rankings are not binding and the Authority is free to select any project regardless of its congestion-reduction potential or regional significance.
In Northern Virginia about 85% of all daily trips depend upon the region’s highway network. Only 5-6% depends upon its transit network. (Note: During rush hours, transit usage is considerably higher, but only 20% of all daily trips are commuting trips.)
Currently, the Authority is investing about 55% of regional dollars in the highway network and about 45% in public transit. The issue is not roads versus transit and no one suggests that the distribution of funds should be directly in proportion to actual use or mode split. However, traffic congestion and time lost sitting in traffic are arguably the single greatest threats to Northern Virginia’s economy and quality of life.
State Level Outlook
Enactment of HB 2313 provided a much needed, long overdue infusion of maintenance and construction dollars. As a result, Virginia’s $33.2 billion Six-Year Transportation Financial Plan (FY 2014-FY 2019) is 24% larger than the previous plan (FY 2013 to FY 2018). For the first time in many years state sales tax revenues have replaced federal revenues as the single largest source of revenues. This is particularly important given the federal highway program’s uncertain future. FY 2014 Commonwealth Transportation Fund revenues are 11% higher than FY 2013.
Since it’s formation in 2002 the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority had no regional funds at its disposal so it mattered not which projects it put in its regional plan. In the latest update (TransAction 2040) localities submitted over 200 highway, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects for consideration for the REGIONAL plan. All were evaluated and accepted as being regionally significant.
Passage of HB 2313 means that the Authority is now responsible for investing $300 million annually. (Note: Actually, under HB 2313, 30% of these funds are distributed to each of the Authority’s 9 member jurisdictions in proportion to the amount of regional revenue collected within each jurisdiction. The 70% – 30% split is another example of how politics continue to play a major role in transportation in Northern Virginia. Transportation needs are not proportional to individual jurisdictions. That split combined with the fact that by law over time each jurisdiction is required to receive back transportation benefits equal to the amount that it contributes in regional funds makes it even more difficult to address major regional needs. In contrast, in Hampton Roads all regional funds go into one regional pot dedicated to regional significant investments.)
The extent to which the Authority is able to focus on projects of greatest regional significance as opposed to local needs remains to be seen. The Authority’s initial attempt to assemble a package of highway and transit projects for FY 2014 pay-as-you-go and bond funds produced mixed results. A number of the local-government-recommended candidates for regional transportation dollars included local bus shelters, buses, and trail lighting. Some where ultimately eliminated, others made the final cut.