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May 23, 2008

Fredericksburg officials brief MPO on efforts to create transportation authority

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20080521-mpo-wide
With only three voting members present, the MPO Policy Board has heard details on the Fredericksburg area’s efforts to create a regional transportation authority. Officials with the George Washington Regional Commission (GWRC) spoke at the May 21, 2008 meeting.

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City Councilors Julian Taliaferro and Satyendra Huja were not present at the meeting.

Before the GWRC presentation, Melissa Barlow of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) gave a status report on the efforts of Albemarle County and Charlottesville to create a Regional Transit Authority. She said the consultant’s report will be available by the end of June. Albemarle County
Supervisors David Slutzky (Rio) and Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said they wanted to go ahead and schedule a joint work session with City Council to discuss the details. Slutzky, the current MPO Chairman, said he would soon be meeting with Barlow and outgoing TJPDC Executive Director Harrison Rue to discuss the next steps in the process. The goal is to have enabling legislation for the authority ready for an area legislator to introduce in the General Assembly for the 2009 session.

Five jurisdictions around Fredericksburg are also preparing their enabling legislation, and shared details of their situation with the MPO.

20080521-Robertson Lloyd Robinson

Lloyd Robinson, the GWRC’s transportation planning director, said the Commonwealth’s transportation problems must be addressed by linking regional governance with long-range planning.  When the Fredericksburg area’s planning bodies were reorganized in 2006, the meetings of the GWRC and Fredericksburg Area MPO (FAMPO) Boards were merged, and are now held on the same evening. Robinson said the new structure also has more of an equal partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  For example, VDOT has devolved some procurement and planning responsibilities to the GWRC.
The challenges faced in the Fredericksburg area are on a larger scale than Albemarle County and Charlottesville, because of its proximity to Washington.  By 2035, the region is estimated to double in population to over 600,000.  Robinson said that has lead to a sobering lesson.

“The George Washington Region cannot afford its present land use policy, which is sprawl,” Robinson said. The long-range transportation plan currently under consideration by FAMPO will call for at least $5.7 billion in highway projects over the next 27 years, but revenue projections show only about $1.5 billion during that time. The GWRC is examining whether a transportation authority with the power of taxation could make up some of the funding gap. 

Robinson said enhancing transit is not an option given the suburban population patterns.

“Low densities make regional transit a poor tool in the transportation toolbox to solve congestion outside of the I-95 corridor,” Robinson said.  Currently, the Fredericksburg transit system serves less than 400,000 riders a year.

Robinson suggested the proposed Fredericksburg Transportation Authority could get into the land development business in order to create the densities necessary to support transit, but also to raise revenue. He also acknowledged this could prove to be controversial.

Robinson said two options for taxation authority are being looked at for the potential authority. First, they’ve looked at the potential of using the same taxing authorities granted in HB3202 (legislation approved in 2007), which gave the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority a set of potential taxes and fees that could be used to fund projects. If deemed constitutional, Robinson said that approach would yield approximately $65 million in the first year.

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Fredericksburg City Councilor Matt Kelly

Second they have looked at a half-cent regional tax, combined with a property tax increase, that would yield $50 million in the first year for the region.  Two jurisdictions in the GWRC already collect a half-cent gas tax, according to Fredericksburg City Councilor and GWRC/FAMPO Chairman Matt Kelly.

Part of the transportation challenge is to educate the public about the need for new revenues and about the link between land use and transportation, Robinson said. Kelly said elected officials across the GWRC region also have to be sold on the plan. 

 “At the end of the day, what I want to be able to do is say, alright, [GWRC], if you want to take care of transportation, these are the projects you’re going to need, this is how much it’s going to cost, this is how much we’re going to get from the state… if you want us to be able to come up with transportation solutions, are you willing to pay for it?” Kelly said.

Kelly called for reform of the way transportation projects are funded, specifically to give the population growth of a jurisdiction more weight in the formula that allocates funding. Communities that have higher rates should receive more funding to address the extra infrastructure required. He also said further devolution of responsibilities from VDOT to local communities will be necessary.

“VDOT needs to run the major highways and major arterials, but on secondary roads, if we had the capabilities to do that ourselves I think we as localities or regions… we could design and build them per VDOT standards, and I think we could get them built quicker and with less hassle and with less overheard then we’re currently doing,” Kelly said.

Fredericksburg will move ahead with its regional approach even in the absence of additional local taxing authority. They will rely on bond issues, public-private partnerships and proffers/impact fees to avoid needing to go to Richmond for permission for every project.

“I look at what’s going on in Richmond right now and it’s like two guys sitting on a boat arguing about how fast it’s sinking,” Kelly said. 

One of the other challenges facing Robinson and Kelly’s efforts will be to get all five jurisdictions in the GWRC to get on board with the enabling legislation for the authority. They’ll spend the months before October working with each governing body to shore up support, while concurrently presenting the long-range transportation plan.

Supervisor Slutzky said he felt Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s chances of getting enabling legislation are much greater, given it will only apply to transit funding. However, both Slutzky and Rooker said they were open to further study of an authority that did take on road maintenance and construction duties.

“We may find it easier to get a funding mechanism that is meaningful to the area by going that route,” Rooker said. Slutzky said the other 9 members of the City Council and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors should be polled on the question.

After the GWRC presentation, TJPDC Legislative Liaison David Blount gave the MPO Policy Board a preview of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly. He called the session a barometer of what might happen with this localities efforts to secure enabling legislation for a transit authority.

MPO staff seeks guidance on TIP information

The MPO will soon begin the process of updating the Transportation Improvement Program, a list of all of the projects that receive funding from the federal government.  One of the duties of the TJPDC’s Transportation Planning Coordinator, Melissa Barlow, is to update the project summaries that are presented to the MPO Policy Board as well as the general public. Before preparing the next set of project updates, Barlow wanted to know if she could produce the documents with less information in order to save time.

“This region has historically presented quite a bit of information to the decision makers as well as the public,” Barlow said. “I have a lot of work ahead of me depending on the amount of information you would like presented.”

Currently, the TIP Project Summaries lists descriptions of the projects, as well as a detailed breakdown of what funding can be used for. The summary also tracks funding allocations across six fiscal years, and outlines the sources of funding. However, VDOT is no longer providing this information to MPO staff as part of its efforts to streamline projects. The new project summaries would lack this extra level of detail, but would direct anyone who wanted to view this information to VDOT’s website. 

Barlow said she could recreate the information herself, but it would be time consuming and she wanted to get the MPO’s guidance before proceeding.

By this point of the meeting, Slutzky was the only elected official left, as Rooker had to leave. He advised Barlow to e-mail all of the policy board members with her question. 

John Giometti, who represents VDOT on the Policy Board, said the information that has been left out only presents a snapshot of a project’s funding. He suggested providing links to each project in the VDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. He also suggested an appendix could be created which would list these links.

The issue will come back before the MPO at its meeting in June.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

Saturation point

  • 1:00 - MPO Chair David Slutzky calls meeting to order, with only himself, Dennis Rooker and VDOT's Wayne Woodcock present as voting members
  • 1:16 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman who claims the MPO's transportation project tracking document contains misinformation about the Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 3:58 - Slutzky responds to Kleeman's comments about the Parkway
  • 5:30 - City transportation engineer Jeanette Janicyk responds to Kleeman's comments about the Hillsdale Drive Extension
  • 6:30 - MPO considers Resolution of Appreciation for outgoing TJPDC Executive Director Harrison Rue
  • 8:36 - TJPDC's Melissa Barlow presents a status update on enabling legislation for the Regional Transit Authority
  • 11:34 - Officials with the George Washington Regional Commission present the status for their enabling legislation
  • 1:08:02 - TJPDC Legislative Liaison David Blount previews special session on transportation
  • 1:18:57 - Update on US 29 North Corridor Story - will be presented at the June meeting. Dennis Rooker takes the opportunity to discuss VDOT's forthcoming corridor review study of US 29 from Amherst to Gainesville
  • 1:25:00 - Albemarle County Chief Planner David Benish explains that the US 29 North Corridor Study is the transportation component of the Places29 Master Plan
  • 1:26:20 - Slutzky tells MPO Policy Board that he has talked with a VDOT official who says the proposed bridge over the Rivanna River for Berkmar Drive Extended could be constructed for as little than $7 million, rather than the $30 million figure that has been publicized
  • 1:28:37 - TJPDC's Ann Whitham provides an update on the UNJAM 2035 Regional Summit
  • 1:33:55 - Under other business, Barlow asks policy board members if they will accept slightly less information on the print-outs handed to them on projects during the TIP process


Fredericksburg City Councilor Matt Kelley (Ward 3) is the Chair of the Fredericksburg Area MPO (FAMPO) as well as the Chair of the GWRC.

Sean Tubbs

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