Mister Chairman and Members of the Board,
The 2020 Transportation Omnibus bill passed by the General Assembly granted the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) the authority to be flexible with the allocation of state transit assistance prior to the implementation of new formulas included in that bill. As a result of that legislation and availability of transportation revenues, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) proposed a significant increase in state funding for DRPT’s transit programs for FY 2022 and FY 2023, including jurisdictional payments to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and local transit systems’ operating and capital assistance. Systems saw an increase in transit assistance in FY 2022 through a Revised Six Year Improvement Program (SYIP) for transit approved by the CTB in January 2022. As part of this action, the state assistance for WMATA increased from $177.1 million to $265.1 million. The increased aid helps localities with WMATA payments since localities receive bills for WMATA service and use state aid, regional gas tax, and local revenues to make payments.
The Draft FY 2023 DRPT SYIP, released in April 2022, proposed the allocation of approximately $272.8 million for state transit assistance to the localities for WMATA. At the June CTB meeting, Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller proposed reducing that assistance by approximately $72 million. Secretary Miller instead proposed that the WMATA assistance funding be separated from the transitional funding approach used for all other transit systems and reduced to align with the 2020 Transportation Omnibus Bill formula. This proposed change would only affect state assistance to localities for WMATA. Per this proposed action, state transit assistance for WMATA would be $200.8 million, which is higher than what was originally allocated to localities for WMATA in FY 2022, but less than what was allocated in the Revised FY 2022 SYIP and proposed in the DRAFT FY 2023 SYIP. The Secretary’s proposal would instead redirect the $72 million to highway paving projects across the Commonwealth to provide reserves to protect against cost escalations that have occurred. This action was deferred to the July CTB meeting. The CTB is expected to act on this matter on July 20, 2022.
Since the Revised FY 2022 SYIP (January) and the Draft FY 2023 SYIP (April) came later in the fiscal year, it could impact the amount of funding the County and other WMATA-partner localities will have available for future WMATA payments. As such, I believe it is beneficial to send a letter to the Secretary voicing concerns over this proposed action, the way it was undertaken, and the impact to the County and its taxpayers. Further, we may want to provide information on how WMATA service is funded in Virginia, as well as a comparison to the funding and governance structures for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Lastly, we should advocate that if the funds are redirected to paving, they be used for projects in Northern Virginia. Our region has significant maintenance needs – the paving schedule had to be reduced to address cost increases; and additional mowing cycles are already being paid for by the County. The Board still believes that four mowing cycles per year is inadequate. In Northern Virginia, only 65% of high-volume secondary roads and 52% of low-volume secondary roads are in Fair or Better condition. While the condition of the region’s roadways has improved in the past five years, additional investment is needed as these roads remain below the statewide targets (82% and 60%, respectively). Further, Smart Scale (the Commonwealth’s competitive grant program for transportation capital funding) is extremely oversubscribed, so it may also be beneficial to provide that funding to the Northern Virginia District Grant Program programmed through Smart Scale.
Therefore, I move that the Board of Supervisors:
Approve the attached letter providing comments on the Proposed Changes to the Commonwealth Mass Transit Fund and State assistance to localities for WMATA to be sent to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation and authorize staff to provide a summary during the public comment period during the upcoming Commonwealth Transportation Board Meeting