The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has taken some heat since approving 34 projects that will receive funding from new local taxes and fees dedicated to transportation.
On message boards, radio talk shows and op-ed pages, some have questioned whether NVTA’s to-do list will effectively reduce brake lights and commute times across the region. The authority allocated about $210 million, with about 60 percent going to roads and the remainder slotted for transit. The largest chunk — approximately $37 million — will be spent widening Va. 28 in parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Other big-ticket items include the Silver Line’s Innovation Center Metro ($21 million) and a host of new VRE commuter rail cars.
In fairness to NVTA, sprinkling a couple hundred million dollars on a handful of hot spots will never make up for decades of neglect from our lawmakers in Richmond.
The situation is dire, and it will take many years, several billion dollars and some astute planning to get our “mobility” grade up from a D-minus to a ‘C’ or ‘C-plus’.
A recent report by the Texas Transportation Institute found that drivers in our region spend an average of 74 hours in traffic every year — the most in the country. That’s 10 hours more than Los Angeles, long viewed as the nation’s poster child for horrendous commutes.
Whether the NVTA’s initial list of projects will help close that gap is debatable. Some contend that bus shelters and sidewalks are local items that had no business being addressed by a regional transportation body. It can also be argued that Va. 7 needs more attention than U.S. 50 or that widening Interstate 66 would bring more immediate relief than widening Va. 28, but decisions become a lot trickier when multi-jurisdictional entities with different priorities are asked to reach a consensus.
The NVTA certainly gets high marks for holding a number of public hearings and public meetings over the last three months and getting substantial input from its member jurisdictions.
We suspect there will be a constructive post-mortem on how the process played out this year and how things might change going forward. The outcome of an NVTA-filed bond validation lawsuit that asks Virginia courts to rule on NVTA’s legality will be interesting. The purpose of a bond validation suit is to get a court determination, before bonds are even sold, that they will be upheld as binding, valid and legally payable obligations. The outcome probably won’t be determined until next spring, and NVTA must wait until it’s over before spending a single dollar.
So, while it’s healthy to dissect each of the projects on NVTA’s list, it is wise to take a deep breath and recognize we’re in Year 1 — technically Month 1 — of a complicated partnership. It’s a little early to be assigning letter grades and casting blame. Is the process perfect? No. Will it get better? Probably, but only if leaders emerge with the goal of solving regional problems and steer clear of pointing fingers and protecting local turf.
We’ve seen that game play out countless times over the years, and it never ends well.