My notes of the Transportation Seminar sponsored by the Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA) on 20 March 2002.

Tim Boyd, Assistant Commissioner for Finance, VDOT, and Susan Shaw, from the Northern Virginia VDOT Transportation District, were the featured presenters.

Tim Boyd's presentation was "Virginia Transportation Finance, a Primer." The state's total maintained highway system is 56,700 miles, comprised of interstate and primary roads (9,450 miles) and secondary roads (47,250 miles). Locally maintained roads in urban areas constitute 10,200 miles. The state system also includes 12,000 bridges, 4 underwater and two mountain tunnels, toll roads and bridges, and ferry services.

The three "T"s of transportation finance are Taxes, Tolls and Take funding from someone or something else. Taxes include federal and state fuel, vehicle sales, sales, special, income and general fund taxes. Both federal and state fuel tax fuel taxes are based on the amount per gallon sold. Virginia's rates are 17.5 cents per gallon of gasoline and 16 cents per gallon of diesel, while the federal rate of 18.5 cents per gallon is the same for both. Every nearby state other than Kentucky has a higher rate than ours (from Pennsylvania 's 25.9/30.8 to Tennessee's 20.0/17.0). Federal funds are received as reimbursements (totaling about $1 billion) to monies previous spent by the state.

Tolls: There are three state-run toll facilities in Virginia: the Dulles Toll Road ($39.7 million in tolls collected per year), Powhite Parkway in Richmond ($9.8) and the Coleman Bridge ($4.7). A new facility, the Pocahontas Parkway will open in 2003. There are other toll facilities in Virginia, but like the Greenway or Virginia Beach Expressway either private or local authorities run them.

The Allocation Process: Virginia State Code requires that financial resources be allocated (a commitment to spend funds) to first - road maintenance, second - administration and general purposes, third - to qualify for federal and matching funds, and then fourth, after any "off-the-top" items - the balance of the funding is allocated 40% to the primary roads, 30% each to both the urban and secondary systems. Allocations and cash assignments do not have to made in the same years, as the allocations may establish how much will be spent but the cash may be made available as required.

Take Aways: There are three sources of Take Aways: Federal "earmarks", legislatively designated and Off-the-Top. A take away works like this - if $50 million out of $1 billion is ear marked for a special project, then instead of splitting the $1 billion over the primary, secondary and urban road systems, the $50 million would be subtracted from the $1 billion, and the remaining $950 million is then split.

For VDOT to properly plan funding for outgoing year projects, the following five actions need to be soundly and consistently accomplished: A) Cost estimates, B) Revenue Projections, C) Legislative Commitment, D) Development Pipeline, and E) Project Delivery. One of the hardest things for VDOT to estimate is property costs, as the recent double digit rise in property values has caused many a project estimate to be much lower than the actual cost. Out-year project planning depends on proper estimates of project cost and of available state funds. Recently VDOT has been hit with the double whammy of rising costs and decreased state funds. A commitment to fund 3000 projects for a given dollar value can shrink to half that amount based on incorrect cost and funding estimates.

One way VDOT has worked around the lack of funds is to borrow against expected federal reimbursements. This allows the state to allocate the matching funds against federally reimbursable projects, while using the reimbursable funds on other projects now. The disadvantage is that in future years the interest costs will be factored into the administration and general costs, and less will be available for actual road construction.

Susan Shaw's reported on status of various projects in Northern Virginia. The life of a typical VDOT project starts with the planning phase. The project is first included in the 2020 plan, then added to the Constrained Long Rang Plan (CLRP), then included in the Transportation Improvement Plan, and then funded by the legislature.

The 2020 plan is unconstrained by dollars or air pollution considerations; it serves as the Northern Virginian regional plan, with elements targeted for short, mid or long-term implementation. Inputs to the CLRP include county transportation plans, citizen inputs and the current CLRP. The CLRP takes into consideration dollar and air pollution constraints and is integrated with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) regional plan with Maryland and DC inputs. Projects are identified for either the 2005, 2015 or 2025 analysis years. The Transportation Improvement Plan is a constrained plan, based on short-term improvements contained in the integrated MWCOG regional plan Projects that have been moved to the short term in the planning stages under go design, then right-of-way and utility acquisition, and then are moved to the construction phase.

Current feasibility studies include:

Primary System Capital Improvement Projects include:

Secondary projects in Fairfax include:

Secondary projects in Loudoun include:

Recently completed projects include the North Dulles Transit Center, the Rts. 28/29 interchange and the Fairfax County Parkway from Spring Street to Eldon Street. The partial Barnesfield Road/Rt. 28 interchange will be let for bid shortly with the aim of completion by November 2003.

Ms. Shaw provided participants a list of abreviations and acronyms, which she called Transportation Alphabet Soup or Cracking the Code

Afterwards a panel of Northern Virginian State Legislators gave their views of the last legislative session and answered questions.

Delegate Vivian Watts: Since the statewide sales tax increase (from 4% to 4.5%) in 1987, which was the last major increase in state funding for transportation, the gas tax buying power has decreased by 58% due to better gas mileage and inflation, even though thereís been a 55% increase in vehicle miles traveled. She recommends that VDOT's prioritization process be changed from each of the ten transportation districts having their own priorities to setting the priorities at a statewide level.

Senator Bill Mims: Both he and Delegate Tom Rust have been labeled as liberal tax and spend Republicans. Although he supported the need for an increase in the sales tax for educational needs, the compromise bill that was presented would have diverted local funds to the so-called "more needy" portions of the state. He thought that it was a bad compromise and worse than no bill and would not support it.

Delegate Ken Plum: Although the state of Virginia is the 12th-largest and the 14-wealthiest state it is 47th in state/local tax burden. After 10 years of tax cutting the state has a $1 billion shortfall in education needs but the state has cut education funding. Construction of the Dulles Corridor Rail is expected to cost $3.1 - $3.3 billion. There are three sources of the funding, a special tax district for the Dulles corridor (25%), Dulles Access Road tolls increase, either by extending the period of time for the tolls to be in place, or an actual toll increase (25%), and federal funding (50%). The current timetable calls for rail to Tysonís Corner in 2006 and to Dulles Airport in 2010.

Delegate Tom Rust: He supported referendums for transit and education. The 2020 statewide transportation plan calls for $30.2 billion, but only $15 billion is expected to be available over the next 20 years. He supports Delegate Watt's call for statewide prioritization; an example he gave was Southwest Virginia's proposed Coalfields Expressway with an estimated cost of $1.6 billion. It is expected to serve 10 thousand cars a day, while Eldon Street in Herndon currently has 22 thousand a day.

He thought that the current funding formula is biased against urban areas, and motions to recompute the funding formula will pit urban areas of Virginia against rural areas. Virginia's state taxing structure needs to be completely restructured; there's not enough to do what's needed. At April's veto session Governor Warner can attach a transportation referendum for northern Virginia to the Tidewater referendum already approved. The referendum will not include funds for education. Northern Virginia legislators will have to decide if half a pie is better than none. The Governor has to indicate how the education problem will be resolved to placate those inner city areas that want education funding more than they want transportation funding.

Contact me!
Last modified 3 July 2002