Dulles Area Transit Association (DATA) Transportation Seminar 102

On 12 June 2002, DATA held their 2nd in a series of transportation seminars. The first covered VDOT financing and their Northern Virginian transportation plans. This one featured three speakers: Jimmy Hazel, on the Governor's staff, on the efforts to pass the proposed Northern Virginia sales tax increase; John Mason, Fairfax City Mayor, on the Regional Transportation Challenge; and Ron Kirby, Director of Transportation for the Council of Governments, on Air Quality and the Clean Air Act.

  1. Mr. Hazel indicated that the Governor strongly supports the sales tax initiative, but that as this election year with no heavily contested draw, getting people out to vote will be important to the outcome of the referendum.

    The referendum will raise the sales tax from 4.5 % to 5% (food and prescriptions are exempt) if it passes in the majority of nine jurisdictions (Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Leesburg, Manassas and Manassas Park).

    If the referendum is enacted it will raise $5 billion over the course of 20 years. The money is to be distributed into two portions, $2.7 billion allocated to a list of projects identified by the enabling legislation, and the remainder to be spent by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (comprised of 16 members: representatives of the 9 jurisdictions, 2 from the House of Delegates, 1 from the Senate, 2 citizen representatives and 2 from the State Government).

    The enabling legislation identifies $250 million to Metro Rail, $100 million to VRE, $100 million to primary road systems, $150 million to the secondary system, as well as improvements to Route 234, I-66, Route 29, Fairfax County Parkway, Route 1, Eisenhower Valley, Route 7 in Loudoun, Falls Church and Alexandria, and I-95/I-395. The Dulles corridor will receive $350 million and $1.5 billion is allocated to transit.

    Funds raised by the referendum are not to be considered offsetting, they will supplement existing funding, not replace them. No new roads will be funded, but instead existing or currently planned roads will receive funds. This should be considered a smart growth initiative, not sprawl. Funding will not go to the Western Bypass, new bridge over the Potomac, nor I-66 widening inside the beltway. To succeed in getting the sales tax increase passed, it will be necessary to focus on its specificity, the fact that many other communities throughout the country have enacted similar proposals, and lastly, ensure that there is an adequate public relations effort.

  2. John Mason gave a summary report on the regional transportation challenge. Daily work trips by transit are up 30% from 1994 to 1999. The regional core (Alexandria, Arlington and the District), will experience low growth over the next 25 years, the inner suburbs (Montgomery, Prince Georges and Fairfax counties) high growth, while the outer suburbs (Loudoun, Prince William and Fredrick counties) the highest growth.

    Projections show that population growth will be up 31%, employment growth 41%, and vehicular miles traveled 46% but the constrained long-range plan (CLRP) only projects 13% highway growth. Most of the growth is projected to happen in the outer suburbs where there are fewer transit routes, but most employment will remain in the inner core. The CLRP shows transit growth at 18%, although a 36% growth rate is needed there are no funds to support it. The current transit system was built on a spoke and hub design, while current trends show that a spider-net is required.

    Projections for the metro area show that conditions will get worse rapidly with highway expansion limited. Funds totaling $76 billion will be available over the 25 years, with the states and the district contributing 42%, the federal government 27%, transit fares 17%, local governments 13% and tolls 1%, while 80% of the expenditures will go to operations and maintenance, with only 20% left for expanding the existing system. Funds needed for transportation improvements work out to be $4.74 billion per year, but only $3 billion is available. Virginia's portion of the $1.74 billion shortfall is $.74 billion, while Maryland's is $1 billion.

    The $5 billion to be raised by the proposed Northern Virginia tax increase will be just a drop in the bucket, a band-aid. If passed it will keep the situation about where it is, but if it doesn't traffic conditions will get much worse, and may cause employment to leave the area.

    In response to a question Mr. Mason reported that the person-carrying capacity of heavy rail is four times the capacity of one lane of highway. The cost of above ground heavy rail is $100 million per mile.

  3. Ron Kirby reviewed the impact of the metropolitan's area air quality compliance with the Clean Air Act. The metropolitan area is in considered in serious non-compliance with Clean Air Act requirements, and was originally scheduled to achieve compliance in 1999. It did not, due to power plant emissions from the west that made our air worse. A new compliance date of 2005 was established, but some organizations, such as the Sierra Club, have sued to have the non-compliance level raised to severe. The result of a worse rating would be the level of reasonably available control measures (RACM) that would need to be enacted to bring the area into compliance, with the number of "bad air days" a key indicator of compliance level.

    The level of nitrous oxide (NOX) emissions may cause problems in 2005, although in the out years new technology is projected to help alleviate the problem, it won't happen fast enough to resolve the problem in the short term. In addition, due the each state's department of motor vehicles enhanced ability to determine actual vehicular type, the local vehicular mix was shown to be comprised of a higher mix of SUVs and trucks, which results in the air quality being actual worse than previous thought. On the bright side, it was determined that fewer large trucks were driving through the area.

    Short-term methods of improving the air quality to bring the area into compliance include converting Metro buses to compressed natural gas, and as trucks perform best between 35 55 miles per hour, cutting down on truck speeding, encouraging telecommuting, etc. Long-term improvements include newer models for emissions and transportation trips, and revised vehicular mix (SUV growth is projected to max out in 2008). The next long range plan will be developed in 2003 and will re-compute the costs and funds available, including the results of the referendum, which ever way it turns out.

Submitted by Jeffrey Parnes

Fairfax County Citizen Representative

Dulles Area Transit Association

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Last modified 3 July 2002