On Thursday, May 10, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) formally adopted major downward revisions of dollar amounts available for regional transportation projects, potentially affecting Alexandria’s infrastructure plans.
The reductions result from state-level action on April 18 preventing new taxes for dedicated Metro funding. To compensate, some NVTA’s existing monies, which otherwise would have gone to Northern Virginia jurisdictions for transportation infrastructure projects, will go to Metro instead.
NVTA “funds transportation projects that are primarily intended to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia,” according to its web site. Its monies come from certain regional taxes and NVTA’s bonding authority. Distributions fall into two categories: 30 percent of available funds go to jurisdictions for their discretionary transportation-related use; 70 percent are distributed through a competitive process to other projects for which jurisdictions request funding. These categories are commonly referred to as “30 percent funds” and “70 percent funds.”
The Metro funding bill requires some diversion of both 30 percent and 70 percent funds. In 30 percent funds, over NVTA’s planning period FY 2019 - FY 2023, NVTA’s nine member jurisdictions will receive $118 million less for their discretionary use than they otherwise would have. Concurrently, NVTA’s Metro jurisdictions will owe $135 million in additional Metro contributions. Alexandria specifically will receive $11 million less and owe $20 million more, for a net effective reduction of $31 million, or 74 percent.
In 70 percent funds, 60 submitted projects, requesting a total of $2.5 billion, will now compete for a little less than $1.3 billion, down 15 percent from $1.5 billion.
The reduction in 30 percent funds doesn’t affect Alexandria’s FY 2019 budget, since the city can draw down on positive fund balances in order to fill the gap.
According to an April 18 budget memo: These “prior-year balances reflect dedicated transportation funding received over multiple years that were not appropriated or appropriated but not spent. To address this funding gap in FY 2019 will draw down the remainder of these sources. Addressing FY 2020 and beyond will be considered as part of the FY 2020 - FY 2029 [10-year Capital Improvement Program] Development Process, and may involve changes in expenditures and funding sources that encompass both transportation related funding sources, general City cash capital, and borrowing sources.”
The reduction in 70 percent funds means Alexandria’s requests face much stiffer competition. Alexandria has requested $88 million in NVTA funding, which would leverage a total of $279 million, for six projects. The largest of these are bus rapid transit lanes in the West End ($61 million), a core element of the city’s long-term economic development plans; bus rapid transit along Duke Street ($12 million); and DASH bus transit service enhancements and expansions ($12 million). Smaller project requests include bike and pedestrian trail reconstruction ($2.2 million) and IT system improvements ($1.3 million).
In the competitive process for 70 percent fund, NVTA “gives priority to projects that provide the greatest congestion reduction relative to cost,” according to its web site. NVTA staff will give their prioritization recommendations after the public comment period ends on May 20. The board will make its final decisions on June 14.
While no Alexandrians spoke at the public hearing accompanying Thursday’s meeting, Loudoun County in particular turned out residents in force. The tiny town of Hillsboro alone supplied more than a quarter of the hearing’s 62 speakers. One speaker from Loudoun said that 26,000 cars per day transit a certain roadway designed for 12,000 per day. Others from Loudoun and Prince William counties said traffic has made children late for school.
“NVTA will set forth its selections of transportation projects after a robust process based upon well-established criteria. … As an NVTA Board member, I am proud of the work we have done together for transportation across Northern Virginia,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg, Alexandria’s NVTA representative, in an email.
NVTA will accept online comment through May 20. Visit www.thenovaauthority.org/syp-comment or email SYP@thenovaauthority.org.