Transportation is always a hot topic in the City of Fairfax, and City Council recently held two work sessions on the proposed Two-Year Transportation Program. Making the presentation was Transportation Director Wendy Sanford, requesting Council’s guidance before she applies for outside funding.
During the fiscal year 2018/19 transportation-funding cycle, the City applied for $105 million for 17 projects. So far, said Sanford, “We’ve leveraged $1 million in local money and received $80 million in transportation funding for 14 projects – and we’re awaiting decision on two others. That’s pretty good.”
This funding will be available between FY ’20 and FY ’25, depending on the funding source. And a new, two-year, funding cycle begins in early FY ’20 for money that’ll be available between FY ’21 and FY ’26.
“Given the complexity of some of the applications, it is imperative that the City identify projects for potential funding consideration, well ahead of the applications deadlines,” explained Sanford. “The proposed program was developed based on Council and community priorities.”
She also noted that the City’s Comprehensive Plan Implementation Guide identifies priorities for short and long term. And, she said, “That’s how we developed the list of projects.”
“We should be very proud of the $80 million you’ve gotten for us,” said Councilman Jon Stehle. “We compete with other jurisdictions throughout the state for this money.”
And, added Public Works Director David Summers, “This money also saves us from using General Fund money for maintenance – for example, replacing pipes under Route 50 as part of the Northfax project and its funding.”
COUNCILWOMAN Jennifer Passey said some things the City needs to consider are: “Are some of these projects affected by our Small-Area Plans? And will they alleviate traffic congestion for the residents?”
Agreeing, Councilman Sang Yi said biking, walking and trails are nice, but reducing traffic gridlock should be the top priority.
Mayor David Meyer generally agreed with him, saying, “In a city this small, we focus on congestion relief and mitigation at certain key intersections.” But he noted that, “Sometimes, trails contribute to the City’s overall transportation plan.”
Yi also recommended that Fairfax’s Micromobility Network Plan – which would identify the City’s preferred bike paths – should be done before moving ahead with bike and bikeshare projects, and Sanford concurred. Yi said a survey of what pedestrian-network plans are needed here should also be conducted, and he supported the idea of a traffic-signal system with transit priority.
Councilwoman So Lim asked if there’s a limit to the amount of funds the City can receive, so Sanford went through the various funding sources, including Revenue Sharing, for which Fairfax may receive as much as $5 million/fiscal year ($10 million total). She said both Smart Scale and NVTA 70-percent funds have no maximum.
“The really big money is in those two, and there’s no dollar limit for either of them,” said Sanford. “The Smart Scale funding-application cycle starts when NVTA finishes – and that way, we know what we received for a project and how much we still need. We can use the NVTA 70-percent funding to be the local match for Smart Scale projects. And for certain projects, I can also ask for half the money from NVTA and the other half from Smart Scale.”
She said the FY ’20/’21 funding priorities should be: Projects with partial funding, those with completed concept-planning and now ready for implementation, plus some new projects. And she noted that local C&I money could be used to develop concept plans and cost estimates for new projects to apply for in future, funding-application cycles.
The partially funded projects are: The Eaton Place/Chain Bridge Road intersection, Old Lee Highway multimodal improvements, Government Center Parkway extension, Old Town sidewalk widening, and Northfax West.
Projects whose concept-planning is done are: Bike Share implementation, Main Street Streetscape, Micromobility Network plan and the Sager Avenue culvert (to improve it east of East Street).
Since there are a slew of potential, new projects, Sanford’s department surveyed the community (406 people responded) about which projects are important to them. Some 62 percent agreed that Fairfax Circle could be improved.
Another 57 percent said the Jermantown Road/Lee Highway/Rust Road intersection should be upgraded to reduce flooding, improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety, and/or address a confusing layout. And 41 percent said the Chain Bridge Road sidewalk could use new bicycle and/or pedestrian connections from Taba Cove Court to Fairfax Boulevard.
Sanford then presented her proposed transportation-funding applications. They included the funding source for each project and when the money would become available. Her FY ’21/22 Revenue Sharing applications are for the University Drive Extension, $400,000; Old Lee Highway Multimodal improvements, $3 million; and Jermantown Road/Route 29 traffic-signal rebuild, $500,000. Her FY ’22 applications are for Main Street Streetscape improvements, $2.4 million; and Sager Avenue culvert, $880,000.
She’s also applying for FY ’21 Transportation Alternatives funds for the Sager Avenue sidewalk between University Drive and East Street. The projects earmarked for FY ’24/25 NVTA 70-percent funds are: Chain Bridge Road/Eaton Place intersection improvements, $21.3 million; Old Lee Highway Multimodal improvements, $3 million (to add to the previous $3 million, since this project costs $6 million total); University Drive Extension, another $400,000; and the George Snyder Trail Underpass, $5 million.
On the FY ’21/22 list for I-66 Inside the Beltway Commuter Choice funds is a new, traffic-signal system with transit priority to improve traffic flow through the City. And a traffic-signal upgrade at the Old Lee Highway/Old Pickett Road intersection is earmarked for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ)/ Regional Surface Transportation Program (RSTP) funds.
POTENTIAL SMART SCALE APPLICATIONS for FY ’26/27 are the Fire Station 33 trail, Snyder Trail underpass and possibly improvements at Fairfax Circle.
After discussing all these proposals, Sanford advised the Council that “It’s important to stagger these projects so we don’t overload staff or the community.”
Councilman Michael DeMarco asked whether the City should still implement a bikeshare program, “knowing it’s decreasing in popularity to scooters.”
And Sanford told him, “We’re now considering a smaller initial program, just from Old Town to GMU, instead of citywide. We’d apply for funding for the bike docks.”
“What are some of the challenges at Fairfax Circle that would make us do a redesign?” asked Councilwoman Janice Miller. “It seems to work fine, to me.”
“Driver confusion and pedestrian-safety issues,” answered Sanford. “There’s major redevelopment going on there, and we want to connect it to Old Lee Highway. It could function better.”
Furthermore, said Summers, “It’s an obsolete design. And at the corners where people merge and there are pedestrians, it could be improved – possibly with a grade separation. There are issues with conflict, sight distance and visibility. We’d first get a feasibility study about the best bang for our buck.”
Miller then asked about traffic accidents there, and Summers replied, “Certain areas of the circle are problematic, and we get complaints from motorists.”
“The traffic circle is a nightmare in the morning,” added Passey. “Overall, I’m fine with how Mrs. Sanford has done this, so I say, ‘Go forward.’”
Sanford plans to return to Council in September; and between then and December, she’ll seek the City’s endorsements for her transportation-funding applications on the City’s behalf.