Virginia Department of Transportation is recommending that Loudoun County receive state funding for only one road project in the state’s annual Smart Scale grant program.
In January, state transportation staff recommended only $1.3 million for Loudoun, toward a $5 million project for improvements along Rt. 50. That represents a significant fall in Loudoun’s fortunes since the previous round projects, when the county won almost $81 million in funding for seven projects, including two interchanges, one intersection, road improvements, a park-and-ride and transit buses.
Loudoun had applied for funding for 11 projects. Last year, the county submitted 23 projects totaling more than $592 million to Smart Scale.
The Smart Scale program targets projects that reduce the number of crashes, relieve congestion, improve access to jobs, address air quality and environmental concerns, and promote economic development. It is meant to provide the Commonwealth Transportation Board an objective system for scoring funding requests based on their actual need and impact.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said Loudoun’s poor fortune may be an artifact of the process used to score projects, which weighs every project against every other project in the state. Northern Virginia, which usually would score well for congestion relief, looked less impressive against a massive, $3.6 billion project to widen the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. Smart Scale’s “Benefit” score, an aggregate of all the project’s calculated benefits, was 74 for the bridge tunnel. No other project had even half of that score, and most were in single digits.
While the Northern Virginia region still brought in almost $200 million in funding, about 21 percent of all funding statewide, the projects recommended through Smart Scale in the region favor mass transit, while Loudoun’s requests mostly included roads. Letourneau suggested running Smart Scale’s mathematical modeling again without the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. While Rt. 50 “is way worse than anybody realizes,” he said, it’s an odd choice to be the only one funded compared to other projects such as widening Rt. 7 between Rt. 9 and the Dulles Greenway, or work on Rt. 15 between the Point of Rocks Bridge and Montresor Road.
“Those are the types of things that you’d think would do well in this type of exercises, and most of them did not,” Letourneau said. “And it’s just because this Hampton project apparently is so dramatic in changing congestion.”
Even with only one project on the list, Loudoun did better than some jurisdictions—such as Prince William County, which was shut out completely.
This round, the state saw a continued increase in both the number and cost of applications for Smart Scale funding, but another drop in how much money is available. From the first round of funding in fiscal year 2017, when the state saw 321 projects totaling $7.2 billion competing for $1.4 billion in funding, this round, the state saw 468 applications requesting $13.6 billion competing for $779.8 million.
January’s report is not the end for Loudoun’s chances. Smart Scale recommendations are not binding on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which makes the final decision on who gets what funding. The board will hold public hearings in April and May before making a final decision in June.
“I don’t think this is necessarily a done deal,” Letourneau said. “I think there is a legitimate effort that can be made to get some of this stuff looked at and reevaluated.”
The project the Commonwealth Transportation Board ultimately approves will go on the state’s six-year funding plan.