Va. Doesn't Expect More Federal Road Funding

WASHINGTON — While Virginia has a number of large-scale road projects in the works, commuters should not expect many more massive projects to move forward any time soon, the state’s transportation secretary said Wednesday.

“I’d love to say we’re going to get a bunch more [federal] money; I think that would be unreasonable to expect,” Aubrey Layne told the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The only way he sees Virginia projects getting significant additional funding is through specific, targeted grants, he said.

“We know that the new administration’s focus is on public-private partnerships,” he said. “President Trump’s budget proposal, although I doubt that’s going to end up being exactly the way it is, … cuts $90 billion from the federal [highway] trust fund over the next 10 years,” he said.

Virginia has already moved forward with or is finalizing financing for a series of public-private partnerships across the state, which typically turn out to be toll projects such as the lanes already on Interstate 95 and the Beltway that are soon set to expand to Interstate 395 and Interstate 66.

“If we want to put billion-dollar projects going forward, these water crossings or these significant interstates, that’s going to require another income stream. Whether we like it or don’t like it, it’s going to require us to look at that,” Layne said.

He said he does not expect the General Assembly to add significant additional funding for transportation in the near future, after the 2013 package signed into law by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“We could use the more moneys, right? Because we had $9.5 billion in requests [through a state project rating system], we had $1 billion to allocate this year. No matter how you cut it, whatever political persuasion you are, that’s a whole lot of projects around the state not getting done,” Layne said.

To get more funding, Virginia will aim to combine projects in a way meant to convince the federal government that the package will have a real, positive impact on travel.

“That’s what it looks like it’s going to be at least for the next four years: no additional money, but there’s going to be grants for transformative projects that will be out there, and Virginia needs to make sure it’s designing and considering that to attract those moneys,” Layne said.

Transit funding cliff

Virginia faces a separate funding crisis for transit maintenance, and that is not even counting most of Metro’s significant needs over the next 10 years.

Bond funding runs out by 2020 for basic maintenance of statewide transit systems, and a General Assembly mandated Transit Capital Revenue Advisory Board is set to recommend next month that the state find $130 million per year to fill that hole. That funding would come from some mix of new taxes and fees or a redirection of existing state funds, but the $130 million would only keep funding near current levels.

“This money does not address the Metro need, nor does it deal with any uncertainty related to the changes in the federal government funding for transit,” former Arlington County Board member Mary Hynes said.

She told her colleagues on the Commonwealth Transportation Board that she is concerned the $130 million number could wrongly be seen as the high-end of what the legislature should provide.

Marty Williams, who chaired the advisory board, said getting much more than that would likely be a stretch, especially given the additional funding Metro will be looking for during this winter’s session.

“We really tried to keep the political considerations in mind, this is going to be a super tough sell,” Williams said.

He chaired the Senate Transportation Committee from 1999 to 2007 and is a former Newport News vice mayor. Williams said it would be a “huge issue” if nothing gets done.

“If I could write it and think that it was going to pass, I’d tell ‘em we probably need $250 million a year for transit, and we could use every bit of it wisely. Every dollar of it,” Williams said. “Who knows what’s going to come out of the General Assembly? You’re likely to get nothing from this. Hopefully that’s not going to be the case.”

The final report is due Aug. 1 and is still being finalized.

“It does acknowledge WMATA as being above and beyond this, and there was a lot of discussion in all of our meetings … about how to address the other big elephant in the room of WMATA,” Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Jennifer Mitchell said.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board endorsed the broad principles of the report Wednesday.

“Information was requested, and we gave it,” Williams said. “The request didn’t say hey we want to build a world class transit system, how do we get there. The ask in the legislation is we’ve got a big problem coming up. We want you all to identify exactly what it is, spell it out for us, and give us a menu of items to try to select from to fix it.”

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