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Planning Area’s Future Transit

Transportation officials discuss transportation funding, projects.

From left, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Bob Chase moderates a panel discussion featuring Marty Nohe, chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Doug Allen, CEO of Virginia Railway Express, Shyam Kannan, managing director of Planning for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Alan Pisarski, transportation consultant, Del. Dave Albo (R-42), Helen Cuervo, Virginia Department of Transportation Northern Virginia district administrator and Bob Buchanan of The 2030 Group.

From left, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Bob Chase moderates a panel discussion featuring Marty Nohe, chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Doug Allen, CEO of Virginia Railway Express, Shyam Kannan, managing director of Planning for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Alan Pisarski, transportation consultant, Del. Dave Albo (R-42), Helen Cuervo, Virginia Department of Transportation Northern Virginia district administrator and Bob Buchanan of The 2030 Group. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance hosted their annual "What You Need to Know About Transportation" seminar Thursday, Sept. 12 at the Gannett building in McLean.

Unlike previous years, which mainly dealt with ways to procure funding, this year’s event was more optimistic due to the transportation bill passed by the General Assembly in May.

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Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, welcomes attendees to the annual "What You Need to Know About Transportation" seminar Thursday, Sept. 12.

"A year ago we were sitting here talking about a lack of revenue making it difficult to accomplish some of the priorities of this region, such as trying to maintain mobility but increase capacity at the same time," said Mark Looney, chair of the NVTA. "Today, with the new sustained funding we have in place, as opposed to one-time bond revenues, it’s really changed the dynamic for what we need to do. Now we’re more focused on how do we spend the money properly."

Bob Chase, president of the NVTA, said that the transportation bill has led to a complete re-thinking of the plan for Northern Virginia transportation projects.

"The plan is a long list of projects, many of which stretch the definition of regionally significant. However, since there wasn’t much money, the thinking was no harm, no foul," he said. "The authority’s most recent update tested some 200 additional projects, even though I’m not sure there [is] anything approaching 200 regionally significant projects. But that was then. Today we’ve got new money, more than $300 million annually, which is half of the $700 million in annual needs that we identified a couple of years ago. So we’ve got to be smart. There’s a difference between wants and needs."

Del. Dave Albo (R-42) said that the new funding means strict criteria for new projects.

"The regional plans have two non-negotiable rules," he said. "Rule number one is money raised here, stays here. Rule number two is the money is going to go to move bodies. It’s not going to go to make pretty bus shelters and silly little things people might want. These concepts are embedded many times in the bill."

Albo said there is what he calls a "kill switch" in the bill that stipulates that the second any money from the fund is spent for something outside of Northern Virginia or on something other than transportation, "all revenue sources die."

Marty Nohe, chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, said the challenge for planners is coming up with criteria to weigh projects against one another.

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Marty Nohe, chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, speaks at the Gannett building on the future of the region’s transportation Thursday, Sept. 12.

"When you have literally billions of dollars of needs, figuring out which ones are most cost effective is the challenge we have. The good news is, we have a lot of need. There’s no doubt we’ll have a lot of projects to choose from. As we move forward, we’ll see a lot of work from the authority on prioritization," he said. "One of the things that has been a source of criticism is that the projects so far don’t seem to constitute any sort of regional plan. When taken by themselves, perhaps they don’t. But we’re not here to spend one year’s worth of money. We’re here to implement a plan that unfolds over the course of time."

Nohe said the authority will begin work on a six-year plan at their upcoming meeting.

When it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of improvements, Shyam Kannan, managing director of planning at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority said there are two schools of thought when it comes to measuring project effectiveness.

He said the NVTA can look at improvements in terms of people moved per hour, or cost per trip.

"On the Orange Line, we can move about 15,400 passengers per hour on peak hours in peak direction, compared to about 6,000 persons per hour on Route 66 during the same time," he said. "Or if we’re looking at cost per trip, let’s say we have to add half a million trips per hour, a number I made up for now, but that‘s what we’re going to be looking to at some point in time. If I were to move those trips onto I-270, it’s going to cost about $7.50 per trip. On Route 66 alone, it’s going to cost about $3.50 per trip. On transit, it’s going to cost about $1.50 per trip."