Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed complex compromise legislation, HB2313, that provides a new transportation funding for Northern Virginia. The funding will be used on projects across the region. The final list of projects will be selected in the next few months. The list of possible projects includes five projects here in the City of Falls Church, that have been reviewed by the City Council and Planning Commission:
1. Transit Study for Route 7, $838,000 – The second phase of an analysis of transit alternatives on Route 7 from Tysons Corner to Alexandria. Transit alternatives include express bus, bus rapid transit (BRT), streetcar, and light rail.
2. Pedestrian Access to Intermodal Plaza, $700,000 – Extend pedestrian connections from the future intermodal plaza further along the commercial corridor and into neighborhoods.
3. Bus Shelters, $200,000 – Provide bus shelters along Broad Street.
4. Pedestrian Bridge on Van Buren, $300,000 – Provide a safe pedestrian passage on the small bridge.
5. Pedestrian Signals at N Washington and Columbia, $300,000 – provide pedestrian-specific signals.
It is important to note that all of the projects have to meet eligibility criteria set forth in the statute and should be ready for implementation, as urged by the legislation’s proponents. The final list of projects will be selected by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). I am the City’s voting representative on NVTA. The NVTA is accepting public comments electronically. For more information and to file comments, visit www.thenovaauthority.org/. The NVTA is also hosting an open house at 5:30 pm this Thursday, June 20 in the City of Fairfax City Hall, 10455 Armstrong Street, Fairfax, Virginia. There will be another public hearing in July. It is tentatively scheduled for July 24.
The additional funding is coming from tax increases in the sales tax, hotel tax, and grantors tax (real estate related). The tax increases are being enacted in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The additional revenue will be collected by the state and then distributed to the respective regions. Within Northern Virginia, the state law mandates that each jurisdiction receive a benefit equivalent to what it contributed through new taxes. That being the case, this funding should be a reliable, long term source of funding for the City.
The new funding is split into two “pots” of money. 70 percent of the money is allocated to a “regional pot”. The spending of that money will be determined by the NVTA and for the most part must be spent on projects listed in the NVTA’s existing long-term transportation plan, called TransAction 2040. Later this year, the NVTA will begin development of a six-year transportation plan to provide a reliable guide for investment in the future.
The remaining 30 percent of the money is allocated to a “local pot.” The money in this pot is allocated to the jurisdictions to spend on local transportation needs. This money comes with a catch. Localities only receive their portion of this pot if they increase spending on transportation beyond what they did in recent years. Most localities in the region passed an additional tax, or overlay tax, on their commercial and industrial property to meet this requirement. The City of Falls Church has not passed an additional tax. The state legislation allows localities to use other sources of funding besides an overlay tax and I have asked City staff to fully explore these options to avoid the imposition of any new taxes, if possible. If the City does not increase funding for transportation consistent with the statute, then its share of the local funding, approximately $900,000 per year, will roll back into the regional pot and be spent on projects in the region, but potentially outside of the City.
There are huge challenges presented by the statute to convert NVTA from a shell to a fully functioning entity capable of doing everything well that the statute requires, within a very few months. I chair the Legal Committee that will, in connection with jurisdictional counsel, provide legal perspectives on everything from the definition of eligible projects to how NVTA should be staffed. The guidance we provide NVTA will be based on our best legal judgment, not on the political wishes of individuals, legislators or groups.
My objective as a voting member of NVTA is to represent the interests of the City of Falls Church and the region in a manner that is consistent with applicable law. This set of circumstances is not exactly as I would want it, but it is the context in which we now must operate.
David Snyder is the Vice Mayor of the City of Falls Church and a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.