Chairman and members of the Board, the Commonwealth Transportation Board is currently developing its FY 2022-2027 Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP), in accordance with the provisions provided in the Code of Virginia. This year’s SYIP update will include funding for various transportation programs, including transit, state of good repair, and funds allocated through the Smart Scale process. Other programs, such as Revenue Sharing and Transportation Alternatives are allocated through the SYIP in even-numbered years. The draft SYIP was released on April 20, 2021, and the CTB is expected to adopt the SYIP in June. As in past years, public meetings are being held across Virginia for the public to comment on the program. Similar to last year’s public comment period, the meetings are being held virtually. The Northern Virginia District meeting occurred yesterday, May 3, 2021. However, comments can also be submitted in writing through May 17, 2021.
Prior to 2020, the Board generally provided testimony and substantial comments in support of County projects that were being considered for Smart Scale or other programs. However, due to the abridged comment period and the virtual meeting format, County staff recommends the Board provide comments in a letter (attached). The letter focuses on two issues:
Funded Projects: The letter thanks the Commonwealth for including funding for various projects and programs in the Draft SYIP. This includes $16.4 million in operating assistance for the Fairfax Connector; $22 million for various transit capital projects; $600,000 for transportation demand management programs; $12.9 million for Old Colchester Road Bridge Replacement over Pohick Creek; and $20.6 million for the Virginia Department of Transportation share of the funding for the CSX Railroad Overpass at Richmond Highway project.
Smart Scale: The Board endorsed a list of projects for submission in July 2020, and the staff submitted applications in the fall. Project scores were released In January, and no Fairfax County projects were recommended for funding. The letter notes significant concerns about the scoring process, particularly in relation to the cost factors. It also requests that any available funds that remain in the Northern Virginia District fund be used to advance the Braddock Road Multimodal Improvements, which is the County project that scored the highest in the process and fell just below the line for recommended projects. During last night’s (May 3) meeting, CTB Member Mary Hynes stated that the City of Alexandria has withdrawn one of their projects that had been recommended for funding, freeing up about $36 million. She noted that it is her intention to try to find a way to fund the Braddock Road Multimodal Improvements project, utilizing funds originally allocated to this project as well as from other previously cancelled projects. The letter has been updated to note appreciation for these efforts and staying the County’s willingness to work with them to move the project forward.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I move that the Board of Supervisors approve the attached letter providing comments on the Commonwealth’s draft FY 2022-2027 SYIP to be sent to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation as part of the public comment record on behalf of Fairfax County.
May 4, 2021
The Honorable Shannon Valentine
Secretary of Transportation
Commonwealth of Virginia
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Reference: Fairfax County Comments on the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Draft FY 2022-2027 Six-Year Improvement Program
Dear Secretary Valentine:
On behalf of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, I am writing to provide you and the members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) comments regarding the Draft FY 2022-2027 Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP). These comments were approved by the Board on May 4, 2021.
First, the Board would like to thank the CTB for recommending funding for various projects in the County, including:
- Transit and Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Funding
The Board appreciates the $16.4 million in operating assistance included in the draft SYIP for the Fairfax Connector, which is slightly more than was provided in the FY 2021. This funding is especially important as the pandemic significantly impacted transit in the National Capital Region, throughout Virginia and the nation, with many transit systems seeing a significant reduction in transit ridership and farebox revenues. Though ridership is increasing, state transit assistance is vital to ensuring continued operations of the Fairfax Connector and other transit systems throughout the Commonwealth. As such, we also thank you for including funding provided for both the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and WMATA as well.
The Board thanks the CTB for providing for various transit capital projects in Fairfax County. This includes $5,080,000 for new buses provided from the I-66 Outside the Beltway Toll Revenues, $208,000 to continue the Connected Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) shuttle in Merrifield that is being provided through the State Demonstration Assistance Program; and $17.0 million in state capital assistance and Volkswagen Settlement funds for buses, support vehicles, equipment, rail-related facilities rehabilitation/renovation. As the region works to rebound from the pandemic, transit is especially important to ensure that our residents, workers, and visitors have a multimodal transit system to rely on.
The Board also appreciates the $475,781 for the County’s Commuter Services Program and $117,821 for the County’s Employer Services Program. These funds will ensure that vital services continue for businesses and workers in Fairfax County, especially to address continued mobility and congestion mitigation as people return to work.
- State of Good Repair
The Board thanks the Commonwealth for including $12.9 million in State of Good Repair Funding for the Old Colchester Road Bridge Replacement over Pohick Creek. The bridge recently had to be closed and this funding will help allow reestablishment for one of the two crossings over the creek east of Richmond Highway. The County also wants to note the importance of State of Repair funding, as other roadways and bridges in the County also need to be addressed.
- CSX Overpass over Richmond Highway
Thank you for including $20.6 million to fund the CSX Railroad Overpass at Route 1 (Richmond Highway). This, combined with the funding provided by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and that the $12 million the County successfully secured from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, will ensure that this project will advance, allowing for greater rail capacity while improving Richmond Highway for transit, vehicular, and bicycle/pedestrian mobility.
While the Board is appreciative of the funding provided for the projects listed above, the County is significantly concerned about the fact that not one of the nine projects we submitted for SMART SCALE was recommended for funding. This appears to be largely related to the cost of our projects. When ranked by Project Benefit Score, five of Fairfax County’s projects were ranked in the top 20 of all projects submitted across the Commonwealth. However, when cost was factored in, none of our projects were recommended for funding.
The high land acquisition, utility relocation, contingency, and other costs, especially in Northern Virginia and other urban areas, are creating significantly inflated total project estimates for most of our projects. Most of these factors are beyond our control. Given the disparity in project costs by District, project costs should be normalized (up or down) so that they are more comparable statewide. Further, the SMART SCALE process continues to benefit smaller projects. We believe that the process needs to be reviewed so that larger projects can be more competitive. Fairfax County’s travel needs require large projects. The County is securing significant funding from other sources, but the Commonwealth must also be a partner in the efforts to fund these projects.
This issue is exacerbated by the continuing changes in project cost estimates. The County received costs estimates from many of our projects from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) in July 2020. Yet, after our projects were submitted, VDOT and the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI) requested significant changes in project cost estimates. These updated project cost estimates for Fairfax County projects increased total project cost for our submissions by approximately $500 million (about 40%). The Board is concerned about these increases as many of the project estimates were originally prepared by VDOT using VDOT’s tools. We believe that estimates need to be consistent between project managers and Smart Scale reviewers. Further, it is essential that all project cost revisions are being undertaken in a uniform manner, and that our region is not being put at an inherent disadvantage.
We do want to specifically advocate for one of our nine projects that was the highest ranked project in the County, and fell just below the line for recommended funding -- Braddock Road Multimodal Improvements. This project will increase capacity, improve bicycle and pedestrian access/safety, transit access along Braddock Road. It also improves connectivity between regional activity centers, including George Mason University. The County understands that a City of Alexandria project that was recommended for funding has been withdrawn and that the Northern Virginia Members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board are trying to find a way to fund our project using the funds now available. The County appreciates these efforts and stands ready to work with the Commonwealth to advance this important project.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the draft SYIP. Please include this letter as a part of the public comment record. If you need any clarification or further information, please call me at (703) 324-2321 or Noelle Dominguez at (703) 877-5665.
cc: Members, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Ms. Mary H. Hynes, Northern Virginia District Member, CTB
Mr. E. Scott Kasprowicz, At-Large Urban Member, CTB
Members, Fairfax County Delegation to the General Assembly
Stephen Brich, Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner
Jennifer Mitchell, Director, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation
Bryan J. Hill, County Executive
Rachel Flynn, Deputy County Executive
Tom Biesiadny, Director, Department of Transportation