The Commonwealth Transportation Board looks set to vote $43 million in state money for a Brambleton to Route 50 connection away from Loudoun and into a Route 7 project in Fairfax County.
The transfer would cancel funding for the Northstar Boulevard connection from Shreveport Drive to Route 50, connecting Brambleton commuters to the area’s major highways. Instead, that money would be used to accelerate and combine a two-phase widening project on Route 7 in Fairfax into one phase, which CTB member E. Scott Kasprowicz said would save $20-$35 million in state money, hasten widening of a road that many Loudoun County commuters take every day, and possibly not delay Northstar, which could still receive $10 million in revenue sharing to finish engineering and right-of-way work.
“Part of what the CTB did by funding the $10 million to keep the Northstart project moving ahead was to ensure that when it is funded, there’ll be no delay in the construction part, so in essence, if the project is funded, it will not be delayed by a single day,” Kasprowicz said. By that logic, by the time Northstar is ready for construction, the money will be available.
But Loudoun supervisors are skeptical.
The funding is allocated using a new ranking system first established by the General Assembly in 2014 with House Bill 2. Northstar Boulevard scored well in that evaluation and was the only Loudoun project that Virginia Department of Transportation staff recommended for funding this year.
“We have a situation now where the CTB has accelerated a project that scores lower than Northstar, and I think the concern for us is, this is year one of HB2 being done this way,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “And already we have a deviation from the congestion relief formula done by VDOT, paid for by Loudoun, for a project in Fairfax County.”
Next year, the county will have to submit Northstar Boulevard to be evaluated by the HB2 formula again. It is expected to score well again, and to be moved further up the list of priorities by the completion of another higher-scoring project elsewhere, but there are no guarantees.
“The reason this scoring system was put in place was supposedly to remove politics from this,”
“As usual, what happens you get down to the brass tacks, counties like Loudoun get the short end of the stick,” said Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian).
She will be conveying Loudoun supervisors’ sentiments to the CTB at a public hearing May 2.
“I will go into that room in that public hearing, and I will speak with the utmost passion and utmost zeal on behalf of this body,” Volpe said.
Letourneau said that “if Northstar is not funded next year, there will be hell to pay.”
“Hopefully this time next year, we will have good news,” Letourneau said. “But if we don’t, then our days of being polite will be over.”
Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) said he sees the sense in saving the state up to $30 million, but nonetheless supported a statement in opposition to the transfer.
“I will support the motion tonight, but I’ll do so hoping that the CTB will honor the commitments that they’ve made to us next year,” Higgins said.
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona was less forgiving.
“There is no future commitment from the CTB, I want to be clear,” Buona said. “It’s one CTB member saying maybe I can get this to you next year.” Buona also pointed out Kasprowicz’s previous involvement with the Piedmont Environmental Council, which Buona said would like to take the Northstar project off the map.
Kasprowicz is a former vice chairman of the PEC, but is no longer formally involved with the organization and denies it influences his decision.
“I stressed to each supervisor that I spoke with that I was committed to pursuing funding for the Northstar Boulevard project,” Kasprowicz said.
The board unanimously endorsed the statement that Volpe will deliver to the CTB on May 2. That statement asks the CTB to follow VDOT staff’s recommendation and fund Northstar this year.
“I do believe that if next year the CTB messes with us, we’re going to speak with another voice, and it may be a roar,” said Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
The CTB will take a final vote in June.