Local leaders from across Northern Virginia have called on the state to put more money into Metrorail instead of stripping transportation money from the region to fill the transit system’s funding shortfalls.
The General Assembly nearly unanimously passed a bill that would increase Metrorail funding mostly with revenues from Northern Virginia. It does that in large part by redirecting tax revenues from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which finances hundreds of millions of dollars in major transportation projects in the region. An analysis by authority staff members estimates Loudoun would lose out on about $27.8 million in funding over the next five years.
Loudoun supervisors have said because of the way the funds are raised, the bill particularly disadvantages Loudoun, causing local taxpayers to pay more into Metro had been laid out in the multi-jurisdictional agreement that underpinned plans for the Silver Line.
Changing the game for the authority, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) warned, could have a compounding effect on its ability to fund transportation projects. Not only would it lose out on some transportation funding, but suddenly losing funding could affect its credit rating and ability to finance debt.
“They have been on the phone with their bonding agencies, and it is as we expected,” Randall told other Loudoun supervisors at their meeting Thursday night. “It’s not great news if things don’t go the way we hope they do.”
Now, with the General Assembly’s regular session adjourned, the question is in the hands of Governor Ralph Northam. Only he can introduce changes to the legislation at this point—something he has said he would do, although he has not revealed any details. The General Assembly meets for a special session April 11.
Wednesday, the Northern Virginia Transportation Coalition, a group of business leaders and chambers of commerce, released a statement calling on the state to put more money in the pot.
“After reviewing the General Assembly’s proposal, we are pleased that it provides $154 million per year,” the statement reads. “We are concerned, however, with the reliance on reprogramming more than $100 million dollars per year in existing regional and local transportation funds and the impact this will have on the region’s ability to meet other longstanding critical regional transportation needs.”
The coalition wrote that funding Metro should not come at the expense of other transportation needs, and wrote Metro “has been a major generator of billions in economic growth,” which Richmond should recognize.
“By solving one problem, we are limiting our ability to solve many others,” said Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard. The Loudoun Chamber is a member of the coalition, and Howard said while he credits the General Assembly with getting a bill passed for metro, “it’s just like pulling your fingers out of one hole in the dike and putting it into another. You haven’t really made progress.”
Howard said Virginia has for years been “negligent” in funding infrastructure, and that it has been the primary reason Virginia has slipped in rankings of the best places to open or run a business. Fixing Metro, he said, “shouldn’t be at the expense of our efforts to play catch-up.”
During a special meeting at the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Thursday morning, Northern Virginia’s elected officials and heads of staff unanimously agreed to a set of four principles on Metro funding to send to Richmond before the General Assembly’s special session April 11.
In descending order of priority, those include support for more state funding, that the state should revert to an earlier version of the senate’s Metro funding bill, return grantor’s tax revenues to the NVTA, and spend no more from local jurisdictions than localities are already contributing.
The NVTA staff is drafting those principles into a letter, which is expected out early next week.
Hours after NVTA members adopted those principles, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed them. But some supervisors were pessimistic about how likely things are to change in Richmond.
“Unless there are a couple of members of the House of Delegates—particularly on one side of the aisle—that agree with that, it doesn’t matter,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).