Following a previous request in October to receive an update from county staff on the status of transportation projects, the transportation committee of the Board of Supervisors held a meeting on December 14, where officials discussed transportation priorities and funding for current and future projects. 

The meeting began with a presentation on pedestrian and bicycle improvements from representatives of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. According to Chris Wells, program manager for the county’s Active Transportation Program that seeks to reduce reliance on motor vehicles, pedestrian and bicycle activity increased substantially during the pandemic, highlighting inadequacies in the current infrastructure. 

A leading problem, Wells said at the meeting, is that new pedestrian and bicycle projects lack the requisite funding to proceed. In 2019, the board approved a $3 billion Transportation Priorities Plan, which provided funding for projects through FY 2025. Several projects approved in the TPP were then deferred past 2025 to find additional funding. 

The board also previously set a goal to identify $100 million in new funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, adding an addendum to the TPP that will run through FY 2027. 

“The board recognizes that additional investment is needed in our bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny said, calling the additional $100 million investment a “good start.” He said that the earliest time the TPP would be updated would likely be fall of 2023. 

FCDOT is currently pursuing other initiatives as well. Following a consultant study and extensive public feedback, FCDOT is crafting an implementation strategy for managed parking in Tysons, which would increase parking turnover in high-traffic areas.  

The county will also be launching a pilot program that offers free and reduced fees for low-income transit riders. The program, funded by a state grant, will run for three years and is expected to be in full swing by summer 2022, according to a presentation from FCDOT Deputy Director Gregg Steverson. Once the grant expires, county leaders will decide whether they want to continue funding the program. 

Funding for transportation projects can come from a variety of sources. County revenues raised through measures like bonds and taxes make up the largest share of funds, followed closely by regional grants. Federal and state grants as well as private funds also contribute. 

In the committee meeting, Wells noted other considerations besides funding influence project planning as well. He stated that VDOT right-of-way is a factor in most county transportation projects, estimating that “upwards of 90 percent” are impacted.

Roads in the Commonwealth are typically owned by VDOT, with the exception of roads in cities as well as the counties of Arlington and Henrico. “We have to follow their rules in terms of what they’re willing to accept, so we can’t just build anything,” Biesiadny said, adding that county projects in VDOT right-of-way must receive VDOT approval and abide by regulations. 

The county actively identifies potential transportation projects through methods like commissioned surveys. County residents can also request projects, such as sidewalk improvements or bicycle lanes, directly with FCDOT. 

However, those projects can end up on a list of unfunded requests alongside others made by county officials and residents, which according to Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, runs nearly 1,000 items long. 

“I can’t tell my constituents with a straight face we’ll put it on a list,” Gross said at the meeting. She then asked whether the list of unfunded requests is capped, considering the current list risks providing “false hope.” 

Biesiadny replied that no projects on the running list are officially approved. The list allows FCDOT to get a full survey of needed projects in the county, Biesiadny added, which officials can then prioritize to address. 

When asked what level of funding might be needed to see most projects through, Biesiadny said that FCDOT has not tried to estimate the total cost of every requested project, though he emphasized strides have been made in recent years.  

“The pandemic has sharpened everyone’s focus” on bicycle and pedestrian projects, he said, adding that “the board is stepping up.” He referenced that the county has previously allocated $536 million to stand-alone bike and pedestrian projects, which he called a “significant investment.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Biesiadny said. “But there’s still much more to do.”

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