After a year in which the General Assembly drastically reduced funding for Northern Virginia transportation projects by shifting a portion of the region’s special tax revenues to cover Metro costs, county supervisors could go after state money for big-ticket road projects.
Supervisors have taken a preliminary step in applying for state funding from the Commonwealth Transportation Board, picking 21 projects to send to send to the Virginia Department of Transportation to be screened prior to a formal application. This year, the county can submit up to 10 roadway and 10 transit projects to be evaluated by Smart Scale, the process by which VDOT ranks projects for funding. In the preapplication process, the county is considering 19 roadway projects and two transit projects.
And with less funding available from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s regionally generated revenues this year, board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said it’s time to start pitting expensive Northern Virginia projects against projects from across the commonwealth for state money. He said the region’s projects will likely rank highly—and get attention from state legislators who this year voted to strip regional transportation funding.
Under the state’s evaluation system, top-ranking Smart Scale projects will be those that reduce the number of crashes, relieve congestion, improve access to jobs, address air quality and environmental concerns, and promote economic development.
“Frankly, guys, Northern Virginia’s priorities are going to rank very high on congestion, and Smart Scale is statewide money,” Buona said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “And if we start taking down state money, we’re going to start getting some attention over the legislation. so there’s a broader strategy we have to play out here to flood Smart Scale with our big-ticket items.”
NVTA leaders have warned that if there is less locally-sourced funding for transportation projects, the entire state will feel the impact as Northern Virginia projects increasingly compete with projects from around the state. Buona said he suggested the same strategy to other NVTA jurisdictions during a recent meeting.
At the meeting, supervisors also added projects to connect Northstar Boulevard between Shreveport Drive to Rt. 50 and to widen Rt. 15 from Lucketts to the Point of Rocks Bridge. Those projects have been submitted for funding from the NVTA, but have been included in preliminary Smart Scale consideration as a fallback.
Several other projects recommended by the county’s transportation staff have also been submitted to the NVTA for consideration. NVTA decisions are expected before the deadline to formally submit to Smart Scale.
Last year, Loudoun County submitted 23 projects totaling more than $592 million to Smart Scale. The Commonwealth Transportation Board recommended funding seven of them, totally nearly $81 million.
Smart Scale rankings are not binding on the state’s funding decisions. In 2016, the first year of Smart Scale rankings, the Commonwealth Transportation Board opted not to fund the Northstar Boulevard connection from Shreveport Drive to Rt. 50, despite the project ranking high enough compared to other projects.