NoVa Transit Projects Got Highest Congestion Scores This Round

Smart Scale congestion scores for Top 10 Northern Virginia projects. Only the top seven received regional transportation funding in the most recent round.

Yes, it’s true that most of Northern Virginia’s regional transportation funds were dedicated to mass transit projects in the last round of funding, says Deputy Secretary of Transportation Nick Donohue. But six of the seven projects that did receive funding scored highest in congestion mitigation under the state’s Smart Scale scoring system.

The only project getting funding without a top congestion-mitigation score — a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro — scored high in other criteria, particularly the environment and land use. The Crystal City Metro, incidentally, is tied to the Amazon HQ2 project, one of the biggest economic-development projects in Virginia’s history, although Donohue says that economic-development benefits did not drive the funding for that project.

In a recent letter to Donohue’s boss, Transportation Secretary Sharon Valentine, two Republican legislators from Northern Virginia had expressed concern that the allocation of regional transportation funds “had left many very important projects out in the cold while diverting monies intended for congestion relief” to mass transit projects. The Smart Scale scoring system, designed to take politics out of the decision-making process, they suggested, is “failing.” (See “Is Smart Scale Working Like It’s Supposed to?

In previous funding rounds, traditional road and highway projects fared much better, Dononhue said. “Based on our analysis it appears that many of the most cost-effective projects in Northern Virginia this Round are transit projects,” he wrote Bacon’s Rebellion. “This was not the case in Northern Virginia for round 1 or round 2, nor was it the case in other Districts this round. We will not know whether it will be the case in Round 4 until the projects are submitted and the analysis is complete.”

The dedicated regional dollars, funded by regional taxes, is not the only funding source for Northern Virginia transportation projects. Drawing upon federal, state, and toll-backed private funds, Northern Virginia has benefited, or is benefiting, from more than $4.5 billion in major regional highway improvements, Donohue adds. Those projects include:

  • $2.4 billion for I-66 Outside the Beltway
  • $500 million for I-395 Express Lanes
  • $400 million for I-95 Express lanes
  • $550 million for I-495 Express Lanes
  • $300 million for Route 7
  • $200 million for Route 234 and Balls Ford Road in Prince William County.

In some years a jurisdiction might win; in other years it might not,” Donohue says. “This does not mean the process is inherently broken. The General Assembly made the decision that making sure each jurisdiction received a set amount of funding was not the most efficient way to distribute funds. SMART SCALE seeks to identify the most effective projects based on our limited resources to advance. Conclusions about whether SMART SCALE is working should not be based on the percentage of funds going to a particular mode or jurisdiction but should be based on what the selected projects will accomplish.”

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