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NoVa Officials Remain Willing to Send County Cash for New Crystal City, Ballston Metro Entrances

A major funder of transportation projects across Northern Virginia isn’t giving up on Arlington’s long-stymied efforts to build second entrances for the Crystal City and Ballston Metro stations, though any substantial progress remains elusive.

For years, the county has planned on paying for the new entrances by pairing its own money with some funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a group that doles out sales tax revenues to transportation projects around the region.

Transportation planners view second entrances at the stations as crucial to encouraging Metro ridership in each neighborhood, and coping with the rapid pace of development in both areas.

However, Arlington’s plans have come under some serious pressure along two fronts in recent months. The county’s declining revenues and rising expenses have forced officials to pare back funding for some long-range construction projects, and that’s included the second entrances at Ballston, Crystal City and East Falls Church.

Meanwhile, the NVTA took a major funding hit when the landmark deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding for Metro diverted tens of millions away from the group each year, a move condemned by Democrats but insisted upon by Republicans as a way to fund Metro without raising taxes.

That’s prevented the NVTA from funding all the projects it might like, including the second entrances. Even still, Monica Backmon, NVTA’s executive director, says that the county remains well positioned to earn the cash it needs to complete the projects from her organization — though, perhaps, not as quickly as its leaders might like.

“When we’ve already invested in projects like these, we want to see them come to fruition,” Backmon told ARLnow. “We still believe in them.”

The second entrance in Crystal City seems particularly likely to earn a bit more cash from the NVTA in the near term, Backmon said. Her group could only hand out about $5 million for the effort in its most recent round of awarding funding for projects, which she expects will fund about “half of the design costs” for the effort.

The county is still settling on the specifics around the second entrance, though it will likely sit at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Given the substantial new development JBG Smith is already plotting for that location, when combined with the close proximity of the Virginia Railway Express station, Backmon said the NVTA remains quite bullish on the project going forward.

“There’s a lot of development going on in the area, so we know there’s a need,” Backmon said. “Provided they’re advancing on the design work, they can come back and reapply for more funds.”

Backmon even expects that the NVTA could send the county the other half of that design funding as soon as next year. She plans to wait a bit to see what state officials might do — the county has applied for $78 million of the project’s $91 million price tag as part of the state’s “SmartScale” funding program, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board is set to make a decision on that cash by next June.

Then, in July, the NVTA will start its own funding process, allowing Backmon to see whether or not her group needs to step in to give Arlington a boost. By then, officials will also likely know whether they also need to prepare for Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City or not, another key variable in the discussion.

“The density in Arlington really is different than in the outside the Beltway localities,” Backmon said. “That project is important to relieve bottlenecks, on Metro and on roads.”

The process for finding funding for the Ballston second entrance is a bit murkier. The NVTA has already sent the county $12 million to fund a western entrance to the station, though that’s far short of the $72 million Arlington officials hoped to receive for the effort.

Backmon’s group declined to devote any additional cash to the Ballston project this summer, and she notes that the NVTA saw needs elsewhere that were “a little more pressing.” But county officials have been anxious to show some progress on the effort, not only to better prepare to cope with the slew of new developments on N. Glebe Road, but also to ensure that Arlington doesn’t lose out on the state funding it’s already received for the project.

Backmon says she can’t be sure whether the Ballston project will be a strong candidate to earn more NVTA money next year, but she is confident that the existing cash isn’t going anywhere.

“We haven’t given up on the project and still think it’s important,” Backmon said. “The fact that we’ve already invested $12 million in it speaks for itself… so we’re comfortable we’re in a place that the project is advancing. We’re not looking to take away any funds.”

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt the project’s chances either if state lawmakers acted early next year to restore the NVTA to its former funding levels.

She pegs the group’s current annual loss from the Metro funding deal at close to $102 million, a bit up from earlier estimates, and is desperately hoping that the General Assembly follows through on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to bump up a few Northern Virginia tax rates to make the math work for the NVTA.

Northam and his fellow Democrats have already pledged to reexamine the issue next year, though, as Backmon acknowledges, any such effort “in an election year” for the General Assembly will be a tricky one.

“Our statewide funding pots are shrinking, but our needs are growing,” Backmon said. “We want to make sure this is on everyone’s radar, and that people understand that, while we made adjustments, we definitely want to be restored to where we were before.”

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County Spends $23.9 Million on Future Home for ART ‘Operations Center’

Arlington is shelling out $23.9 million to buy land that will someday become home to a new bus “operations center” in Nauck, marking an end to years-long negotiations over the property’s future.

The County Board voted Saturday (July 14) to purchase the site, located at 2629 and 2633 Shirlington Road. Arlington Transit plans to eventually store about 90 buses on the property, and eventually develop the space “as a base for ART operations,” according to a county staff report.

The county already leases about 2.5 acres of the roughly 3.5-acre property to use as bus storage, but it was paying $60,000 a year for the privilege. The remaining section of the land was once used as storage by the towing company Redman Fleet Services.

County leaders have eyed the property as an ideal site for additional bus storage for several years now, and considered acquiring it as part of a swap involving another in-demand piece of land: the Buck property near Washington-Lee High School.

The Arcland Property Company proposed trading its Shirlington Road property for a portion of the Buck site, which the county bought for $30 million several years ago, in order to build a self-storage facility on the property. But that proposal attracted pushback from the community, particularly as the county eyed the Buck site as one that could become home to a school someday.

Arlington’s budget pressures means officials still haven’t been able to plot out a long-term plan for the property, though the county did recently agree to allow some school system employees to use it for parking. The county plans to wrap a study of the property’s suitability for some sort of school building this winter.

Yet the Board was able to afford the Shirlington Road site without giving up any of the Buck property thanks to a mix of state and regional funding. Some state grants will pay for nearly $7 million of the $23.9 million price tag, with some recently awarded money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority adding another $2.7 million or so.

The NVTA doled out $39 million to help pay for the operations center’s construction as well, in addition to a new “heavy maintenance facility” in Springfield. ART recently opened a new “light maintenance” facility in Crystal City.

Photo via Google Maps

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County May Ask State for $78 Million for Second Crystal City Metro Entrance

(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington is getting ready to seek nearly $78 million in state transportation funding to build a second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station.

The County Board is considering submitting the project for “Smart Scale” funding, money handed out by the Commonwealth Transportation Board for big-ticket projects around the state. If approved, Arlington would have the money it needs to add an eastern entrance to the station at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., perhaps by sometime in 2024.

The county has spent years studying the prospect of a second entrance to ease access to the Crystal City station, particularly as planners project substantial increases in housing development in the area over the next few decades, with or without Amazon’s potential arrival. The project would also include two street-level elevators and a new underground passageway and mezzanine to reach the Metro platform.

Yet the county has hit some roadblocks when it comes to finding funding for the $91 million project.

Arlington’s recent budget woes, brought on by declining commercial tax revenues and new funding obligations for Metro service, means that the county will need to rely on outside funding for the second entrance. The county expected to get most of that money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that funds major transportation improvements.

But the NVTA recently told the county that it can only chip in about $5 million towards design work for the project, as the group adjusts its own funding plans after losing out on tens of millions in annual revenue as a result of a deal to provide dedicated funding to Metro.

That forced Arlington officials to turn to the statewide “Smart Scale” program to for funding, an outcome local lawmakers predicted as a result of the NVTA losing out on money as part of the Metro deal. The county is similarly concerned about how it might pay for second entrances at the Ballston and East Falls Church stations in the coming years due to these same factors, but officials only chose to submit the Crystal City project for “Smart Scale” money.

State transportation officials will evaluate the Crystal City entrance against other projects across the state, and award funding based on factors like how much congestion they will relieve and how much economic development they’ll spur. Should Arlington win the full $78 million it’s asking for, county officials plan to use the NVTA money and some local tax revenue to fund the remainder of the project’s cost, according to a staff report.

The county also plans to submit three more projects, with a total cost of roughly $10.1 million, for “Smart Scale” funding.

Those include the expansion of Transitway service in the Crystal City area, the installation of new equipment and software to create a demand-based pricing system for county parking meters and the procurement of software to better manage Arlington Transit (ART) bus service.

More on the parking meter proposal:

Performance Parking Deployment in Commercial Corridors ($6.1 million)

This project will install equipment and software to support demand-based pricing of on-street meters and improved public information about parking availability. On-street parking is limited by the finite length of curb on County streets and competing curb uses while offstreet parking is very expensive to build. Given these limitations, it is critical that the parking supply is managed effectively. Modern parking technology enables a much more efficient management of the system. County policy, as stated in the Master Transportation Plan’s Parking and Curb Space Management Element, supports the use of multi-space meters and other high performing technologies. The project will support the installation of hardware and software to monitor and display occupancy, turnover, and parked duration information from the curbside metered spaces and County owned and operated off-street facilities in order to support demand-based pricing of on-street meters and improved public information about parking availability.

The County Board will formally vote to endorse these “Smart Scale” applications at its meeting this Saturday (July 14).

Photo via Arlington County

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Second Entrance at East Falls Church Metro Station May Be On Hold For a Decade Or More

Arlington likely won’t be able to add a second entrance at the East Falls Church Metro station until sometime in the 2030s, as county officials re-examine their funding priorities for the next decade.

The county has hoped for years to build a western entrance to improve pedestrian access to the station, particularly with plans to someday re-develop the parking lot and properties surrounding the station.

But the project’s roughly $96 million price tag makes it difficult to afford as officials grapple with a tight revenue picture. County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing delaying any funding for the second entrance until at least fiscal year 2028 in his new ten-year Capital Improvement Plan.

“Given the pipeline of existing, high-priority stations, it really made sense to move this out,” county transportation director Dennis Leach told the County Board during a work session last Tuesday (June 26).

Schwartz is calling for the county to dedicate $8.8 million in state and regional transportation dollars for design work at the station starting in 2028, pushing back any construction spending indefinitely. The Board’s last CIP, approved in 2016, called for the planning process to start in fiscal year 2022, and construction to start in 2024.

As Leach mentioned, the county is eyeing second entrances at both the Crystal City and Ballston Metro stations as well, and officials are also struggling to fund those efforts as the county copes with increased Metro spending to provide the service with dedicated annual funding.

Complicating matters further is that the county was hoping the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a group that hands out money for transportation improvements around the region, would be able to fund the bulk of the construction of all three projects. But the same dedicated funding deal for Metro involved pulling away about $80 million from the NVTA each year, meaning the group is scaling back how much money it can offer all but the most large-scale projects.

“We can’t do them alone,” Leach said.

For the East Falls Church Metro entrance, the county was hoping to earn about $57.2 million from the NVTA. But with the group barely able to find any money for the Crystal City project, and no money for the Ballston second entrance, the county doesn’t have any clear sense for where to find funding for East Falls Church if its fiscal situation doesn’t improve.

That’s not to say that the county is abandoning the project, however.

Sarah Crawford, the county’s assistant director of transportation, told the Board that she fully expects the East Falls Church entrance “would score well” and earn money generated by the tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission hands out some of that revenue as part of its “Commuter Choice” program for local transportation improvements, and Crawford said the county plans to submit the East Falls Church project for consideration in the coming months.

Karen Finucan Clarkson, a spokeswoman for the NVTC, says the group finished its most recent round of funding through the program last month, but will solicit a new round of projects “this fall, most likely in October.” The NVTC would then select its preferred projects sometime next spring, and the county is hoping to win roughly $6.6 million in funding for the effort.

Meanwhile, Leach also noted that the county will probably apply for more state funding through the “SmartScale” program for the Crystal City entrance project — applications are due by Aug. 1.

The County Board is set to vote on its final CIP by July 14.

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Plans to Build New Ballston Metro Station Entrance Could Stall

Arlington officials worry that their plans to build a second entrance to Ballston Metro station could stall and be delayed indefinitely if the county and WMATA can’t make progress soon.

To get a move on and finally construct a western entrance for the highly trafficked station, county leaders say they need millions more in funding, and they’ve had trouble tracking down that money.

Arlington asked for $72 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to help pay for design work and construction, but the regional group passed over the project entirely in its new six-year funding plan. Without that cash, County Board Chair Katie Cristol worries that the roughly $25 million Arlington’s already received in state transportation funding for the project could go up in smoke, throwing its future in jeopardy.

“We have not spent down… very much of the design funds that have already been awarded,” Cristol told ARLnow. “I don’t think it’s imminent that they’re about to be clawed back if we don’t make progress. But I think they could be, especially in a time where resources are constrained everywhere.”

Cristol, Arlington’s representative to the NVTA, says the group ultimately chose not to award more money for the Ballston project because its leaders just didn’t see enough forward momentum on design work for the effort.

“We’re a little stuck, and we do need to show progress,” Cristol said.

It doesn’t help matters, as Cristol pointed out, that the group will lose roughly $80 million a year as a consequence of the deal to provide dedicated annual funding to the Metro system, and has had to scale back how many projects it will fund around the region.

Even still, the NVTA was able to send the county $5 million to pay for additional design work on a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, falling far short of the county’s $87 million request but still helping push the project forward.

What set the Ballston project apart from Crystal City, Cristol notes, is the work the county still needs to do with Metro to draw up what the construction will actually entail. Broadly, officials know they’d like to build another entrance near the intersection of N. Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street to improve access to the spate of new developments on N. Glebe Road.

Beyond that, however, Cristol says the county and Metro need to work out the details. As WMATA grapples with the existential issue of how to bump up service levels and lure riders back to the system, Cristol worries Ballston could get lost in the shuffle.

“It’s not opposition to the project,” Cristol said. “I don’t even think it’s a sense that the project is too complicated, it’s just a bandwidth problem.”

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld warned County Board members at a Tuesday (June 26) work session that the Ballston project is not without its challenges.

He expects that construction at such a busy station would have “huge impacts on service,” noting that Metro would likely need to build a “temporary platform” while work proceeded. Wiedefeld reiterated his commitment to the project, but he also told the Board that he’d like to see a lot more preliminary work done with such consequences for Orange and Silver line riders at stake.

“We need to make a commitment together that we’re going to spend dollars on it, look at this in detail and make some hard decisions on what will come out of that,” Wiedefeld said. “I’m not comfortable with any of the costs that been bantered around, to be frank, without that level of engineering.”

That sort of tone struck Cristol as good news, even as she urged Metro to address the project sooner rather than later. Fundamentally, she believes additional access to the Ballston station will help WMATA meet its goals of boosting ridership once more, so it should become a natural priority for Wiedefeld and company.

“I do believe this is a project that is good for Metro,” Cristol said. “It would help them get new riders, when they need them the most.”

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Northam Pledges to Revive Tax Increases to Fund Metro, Send Transportation Money Back to Arlington

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) says he’ll renew his push for a set of Northern Virginia tax increases to fund Metro next year, a move that could help Arlington win back some critical transportation dollars.

Republicans in the General Assembly narrowly defeated Northam’s efforts to add the tax hikes to legislation providing the first source of dedicated funding for the rail service earlier this year.

The tax increases would’ve been relatively modest, bumping up levies on real estate transactions and some hotel stays, but they could’ve helped the state avoid pulling roughly $80 million in annual funding away from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The group uses regional tax revenue to fund transportation improvements across Northern Virginia, and the NVTA has already had to scale back its plans to help Arlington pay for construction projects like second entrances at the Ballston and Crystal City Metro stations.

That’s why Northam says he plans to propose the tax hikes once again when lawmakers reconvene in Richmond in January, setting up another tussle over the issue several months ahead of an election where all 140 state legislators will be on the ballot.

“We’ve got to be so careful pulling resources out of the [NVTA],” Northam told ARLnow in a brief interview in Rosslyn. “It threatens other projects we were working on. It also makes Northern Virginia compete with other parts of Virginia. It was a bad idea, and that’s why I amended [the original bill]. We’re going to continue to work on that.”

There’s no guarantee that Northam’s second effort will be any more successful than his first, however. Republicans still hold a slim, 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates where GOP leaders, particularly Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), have pledged to beat back any tax increase to fund Metro.

But Democrats are eager to take up the fight once again, especially with other contentious issues, like Medicaid expansion or the freeze on state utility rates, off the table.

“It’s worth coming back and doing this right,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “The way we funded this thing was clearly shortsighted.”

Neither Hugo nor a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox responded to a request for comment on Northam’s Metro plans. But Hope believes Republican lawmakers, particularly those outside of Northern Virginia, will come around on the tax hikes as they begin to feel the impacts of the funding deal’s structure.

Specifically, he points out that without seeing all the money they’d like from the NVTA, Northern Virginia localities like Arlington have already started applying for more funds from statewide entities. That will put Northern Virginia projects in competition with applications from cities and counties without the same level of traffic congestion as the D.C. region, meaning places like Arlington could end up winning out in plenty of cases.

“Everyone else is going to get less money,” Hope said. “Nobody likes to be stuck in traffic and nobody wants to get blamed for causing that.”

County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey points out that applications for the state’s “SmartScale” transportation funding program have already “more than doubled” this year, with counties like Arlington on the hunt for more construction dollars. He expects that will only continue as time goes on, and he was similarly pleased by Northam’s plans to bring the tax increases back.

“It wouldn’t just relieve the funding pressures on us, but everyone else,” Dorsey said. “The way Metro funding was accomplished this year ends up hurting the entire state.”

In the meantime, however, Dorsey notes that the county can’t assume that Northam’s efforts will be successful.

As the Board has started work this summer on its latest revision of Arlington’s 10-year construction spending plan, county staff have repeatedly expressed hope that the Metro funding equation changes and opens up more room for spending on big transportation projects. But without any certainty on that count, they have to prepare as if things will remain the same.

“Hopefully, this is something we can correct in two years,” Dorsey said. “But we can’t know for sure.”

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County Scores $83 Million in Funding for ART Facilities, Pentagon City Improvements

Arlington is now in line to receive nearly $83 million in funding to help the county afford four major transportation projects over the next six years, including the construction of two bus maintenance facilities and a major expansion of transit options in Pentagon City.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority announced its new Six Year Program today (Friday), outlining the regional body’s plans to shell out a total of nearly $1.3 billion for transportation projects through 2024. The NVTA collects a select set of regional taxes, then identifies which construction efforts around the region are most likely to reduce in congestion before doling out money to help localities fund them.

State lawmakers recently decided to pull tens of millions of dollars away from the group each year, in favor of sending the money to Metro as part of the new dedicated funding agreement for the rail service. That’s constricted the NVTA’s ability to hand out funding for transportation projects, much to the chagrin of officials across Northern Virginia, but the group still has the capacity to help pay for 44 different projects around the region.

In Arlington, that includes:

  • $39 million for two new Arlington Transit operations and maintenance facilities
  • $28.8 million for Pentagon City road improvements and Transitway expansion
  • $10 million for improved traffic signals around the county
  • $5 million for a second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station

Notably, the NVTA declined to award additional funding to one of the county’s other top priorities: a second entrance to the Ballston Metro station. Arlington previously received $12 million from the group to start work on the effort, and was looking for another $72.3 million to make the project a reality, but NVTA leaders warned that such a project was unlikely to win out over other efforts more focused at relieving traffic congestion.

The $5 million for the second entrance at the Crystal City station is also substantially less than the $87 million the county requested to complete the project. County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that Arlington’s funding challenges will make it difficult for the county to build both second entrances without the NVTA’s help, but the $5 million will help the county complete additional design, engineering and environmental work.

Those issues aside, the NVTA did manage to fund the bulk of the county’s request for the new ART facilities, the top priority for Arlington officials this year. The county is planning to spend a total of $98.4 million on additional facilities for buses over the coming years — a new “heavy maintenance” facility in Springfield and an “operations center” along Shirlington Road.

ART believes those new facilities are necessary as the bus service prepares to accommodate significantly higher ridership by 2026. ART buses have also experienced a series of mechanical problems over the last few weeks.

In Pentagon City, the NVTA money will help the county fund a $46.6 million effort to improve the area running from Army Navy Drive near the Pentagon City mall to the Crystal City Metro station off Route 1. The project will involve adding new bike lanes and turning lane throughout the area, as well as an expansion of the Transitway service to the Pentagon City Metro station and Army Navy Drive.

The service, which involves buses running in dedicated lanes, currently ends at 15th Street S., and officials hope expanding it will better connect the area to Columbia Pike.

Finally, the NVTA is sending $10 million to the county for “intelligent transportation system improvements,” which will include upgrades to traffic lights to reduce traffic and improve safety for pedestrians at select intersections. The improvements are slated for lights along Washington Boulevard and Columbia Pike, as well as throughout Crystal City.

Outside of Arlington, some of the NVTA’s largest funded projects include the widening of Route 1 in Fairfax County and improvements to Route 28 in Prince William County.

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Arlington Officials Fear Metro Funding Deal Could Imperil Ballston, Crystal City Station Projects

Funding to help WMATA keep running and catch up on maintenance may end up jeopardizing major projects slated for two busy Arlington Metro stations.

A new deal brokered by state lawmakers will send about $154 million to Metro each year, providing funding for badly needed improvements to the system — but Arlington officials fear the structure of the agreement could imperil planned Metro entrance projects.

For years, the county has been hoping to add second entrances to the Ballston and Crystal City stations to make it easier for people in those neighborhoods to access the Metro. But Arlington planned to pay for those projects with the help of a regional group that doles out money for transportation improvements: the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, commonly known as the NVTA.

Yet the NVTA can only afford to fund that kind of construction effort with the tax revenue it brings in, and the dedicated funding deal hashed out in Richmond will divert a substantial chunk of that money to Metro for ongoing operations and maintenance.

Gov. Ralph Northam and his fellow Democrats had hoped to avoid that outcome by bumping up a few Northern Virginia tax rates instead, but the slim Republican majority in the House of Delegates scuttled that plan in favor of sending the NVTA money to Metro.

NVTA leaders aren’t yet sure just how much money the group will lose — they’re currently projecting a roughly $80 million drop in annual revenue for the next six years — but they are reluctantly admitting that the group will have to trim the list of projects it can fund in the coming years.

Arlington County Board Chair and NVTA board member Katie Cristol expects that will prompt indefinite delays of the projects at Ballston and Crystal City, or it could force the county to find new funding streams for them entirely, an unwelcome prospect given Arlington’s increasingly stretched finances.

“When there’s less money to go around, it forces a re-racking of priorities,” Cristol told ARLnow. “These would be transformational projects for us, but the need is different elsewhere.”

NVTA chairman Marty Nohe, a Republican who also serves as vice chair of Prince William’s Board of County Supervisors, says his group largely focuses on funding projects that relieve traffic congestion around the area. While he fully expects that adding second entrances at those Arlington stations would pull some cars off the road, he also notes that they likely won’t have the same impact as other road improvements elsewhere in Northern Virginia.

“That’s the nature of these multimodal projects,” Nohe said. “It doesn’t put more trains on the track, it makes it easier for people to get there and opens the station up to a larger segment of the Arlington population… so it’s a good example of the type of project that will absolutely be affected by a loss of NVTA funds due to the Metro bill.”

Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), a leading opponent of tax increases associated with the Metro funding bill, has frequently dismissed Nohe’s concerns as overblown. He’s often noted that Metro is already cancelling some of its own requests for NVTA funding with the state deal secured, which could very well free up more money for localities like Arlington and lessen the need for such a drastic reordering of funding priorities.

But Cristol and Nohe are both taking the prospect of the deal delaying the Ballston and Crystal City improvements seriously. Cristol is concerned that further delays for the second entrance at Crystal City will have ripple effects on the nearby Virginia Railway Express station — without another Metro entrance closer to the VRE station, she fears the county might not be able to effectively encourage commuters to transfer between the two transit systems.

“We’re trying to create this nexus with VRE there,” Cristol said. “But if people have to do a bunch of walking and cross the street to transfer, they might be inclined to just get in their car and drive.”

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) points out the county could apply for “Smart Scale” funding to pay for the projects, putting Arlington in competition with localities around the state hoping for transportation dollars. That could mean less money is available for other, smaller municipalities, and Favola predicts that could prompt more action on the issue in Richmond next year.

“Every Northern Virginia lawmaker, particularly on the local level, they’re concerned,” Favola said. “I really think we’re going to have to go back and revisit this.”

Photo via Arlington County

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County Celebrates Opening of Crystal City Multimodal Center

Representatives from the county and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority came together this morning to celebrate the Crystal City Multimodal Center‘s completion.

The center on 18th Street S. between S. Eads and S. Clark streets — next to the Crystal City Metro station — now has more bus shelters for use by local and regional buses, wider sidewalks, improved lighting, bike lanes and a kiss and ride zone where shuttle buses can also load and unload.

Funding for the $3.4 million project came a $1.5 million grant from NVTA, a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a developer contribution and money from the Crystal City tax increment financing area.

“With these infrastructure improvements, Arlington is making it easier and safer for people travelling to and through Crystal City — whether they are arriving by bus, Metro, on foot or by car,” County Board chair Jay Fisette said. “It’s the latest example of how the county continues to invest in Crystal City and continues to build on the community’s vision of enhanced access and connectivity.”

NVTA funds projects across four counties and five cities in Northern Virginia, and officials said improvements such as those in Crystal City help the entire region. NVTA board chair Martin Nohe gave the example that a stopped train in Arlington at 7 a.m. can cause parking problems in Woodbridge at 8 a.m., and the center will help ease congestion worries.

“The people of truly every Northern Virginia jurisdiction are benefitting not just from this project, but every other project throughout Arlington,” Nohe said.

Fisette said that such projects and an emphasis on transit helped Arlington be recently named the best city for millennials. Without planning and the community’s input combined with bodies willing to help with financing, projects like these could never come to fruition, he said.

“We can’t do it all ourselves,” Fisette said. “We have to partner to make things like this happen…That’s what makes a community good. You can’t do the last part [delivering a project] without the first part [money], and you can’t do the first part without the community and the vision.”

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Arlington Transportation Projects Approved For Funding

Lane closures and traffic approaching the Glebe Road/Rt. 50 bridgeFour Arlington transportation projects were approved for funding in Fiscal Year 2014 last night by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

The authority approved funding for the Columbia Pike Multimodal Improvement Project, the Crystal City Multimodal Center, four additional ART buses and improvements to the Boundary Channel Drive/I-395 interchange; a total of $18.835 million.

In addition, the NVTA approved $5 million for the design of WMATA traction power improvements on the Orange Line, and $7 million for 10 new buses on Virginia Metrobus routes.

The package approved was the first to be directly allocated funding from the controversial transportation bill, HB 2313, passed by the General Assembly in the spring. About $270 million is estimated to come to Northern Virginia in funding this fiscal year, $190 million of which was available to be allocated by the NVTA.

The other $80 million will be distributed directly to localities. Arlington is projected to receive $11 million in direct funding, which it expects to direct to its Transportation Capital Fund.

The NVTA voted unanimously to approve $116 million in pay-as-you-go funding and more than $93 million in bond funding, pending a bond validation. Of Arlington’s approved projects, only $4.3 million for the Boundary Channel Drive/I-395 interchange will go through the bond process.

The state began collecting funds for the projects July 1 when a series of tax increases and other funding measures took effect. Over the next six years, HB 2313 is expected to raise more than $1.5 billion total for the region and close to $200 million for Arlington alone.

Other projects that were approved for funding that could have an impact for Arlington residents include $838,000 to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission for the study of transit alternatives on the Route 7 corridor between King Street and Tysons Corner and five new DASH buses in Alexandria.

Two projects that impact Arlington — a $4 million VRE Crystal City platform extension and $5 million for upgrades to interlocking and platform girders at the Reagan National Airport Metro stop — were denied funding by unanimous vote.

One project that did not come up in the discussion was the Columbia Pike Streetcar project. Critics of the streetcar were calling the lack of funding another loss for the controversial project, but Arlington officials did not submit it for consideration.

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Arlington Projects to Receive Funding Under New Transportation Bill

Route 50 traffic by pderbyFour transportation projects in Arlington are first in line for funding from the new Virginia transportation bill that went into effect on Monday.

The Columbia Pike Multimodal Improvement Project, the purchase of four additional ART buses, the Crystal City Multimodal Center, and Boundary Channel Drive- I-395 interchange improvements — which include construction of two roundabouts as well as safety and aesthetic improvements — are under consideration by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to receive funding under the bill, HB2313.

In Fiscal Year 2014, the NVTA is expected to have $190 million to spend, and the authority is considering 32 projects across the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park. Arlington’s four projects on the list that cost a combined $18.835 million.

County Board member Chris Zimmerman is Arlington’s representative on the NVTA, which is responsible for allocating 70 percent of the expected $1.6 billion in funds the region will receive from HB2313. The remaining 30 percent will be given directly to the localities.

The proposed list, culled by the Project Implementation working group that Zimmerman chairs, costs a total of $186.99 million. The NVTA has indicated in its recent meetings that it will decide to allocate significantly less than that because the $190 million is a projection and no actual revenues have been raised. Even if all four Arlington projects make the final cut, however, the money Arlington is expected to raise will be less than it receives in regional funding, Zimmerman said.

Arlington’s return on investment “is meant to [even out] over time,” Zimmerman clarified when reached by phone earlier this week. “I think all four projects for Arlington are strong regional projects.”

The statute dictates that each locality must receive approximately equal benefit to what it puts in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a dollar in and a dollar out, said Regional Transportation Planning Coordinator Jennifer Fioretti, who has worked closely with Zimmerman for the NVTA.

In addition to the four projects Arlington submitted, the NVTA is considering allocating $5 million to WMATA to continue with Orange Line track improvements and $7 million to purchase 10 new buses, which would be intended to service routes along Wilson Blvd and Columbia Pike, among others.

The county is projected to receive about $11.4 million in direct funding, Zimmerman said, and he expects that to be directed to the county’s Transportation Capital Fund, set up in 2007 to allocate commercial tax revenues to transportation projects. Zimmerman said there has been no discussion about what projects the money would fund at this point.

Through 2018, Arlington is projected to raise $138.2 million for the NVTA and $59.2 million to go toward the Transportation Capital Fund. The money will be raised by the combination of a sales tax increase, a grantor’s tax increase and a Transient Occupancy Tax raise.

The NVTA held a public hearing at Fairfax City Hall on June 20, the first time members of the public could give their take to the gathered representatives, which include Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who also sits on the board. Citizens from Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, as well as representatives from the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and the Coalition for Smarter Growth gave their take — some angrily — but Arlington’s speakers were few and far between, and didn’t take issue with anything on the list.

A few speakers did mention, however, that they were opposed to the Columbia Pike streetcar project receiving funding, even though the streetcar is not among the projects being considered

“Notwithstanding some of the recent kerfuffle over streetcar, transportation hasn’t generally been controversial in Arlington,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a pretty strong consensus. We don’t have places you could argue about putting new roads. We’re small, geographically speaking, we’re heavily developed; clearly we need more transit and pedestrian facilities and upgrades to existing roadways.”

The Project Implementation working group meets again on Monday, Zimmerman said, and the NVTA is holding another public hearing at 6 p.m. on July 24 in Fairfax City Hall, after which it will vote on the finalized FY2014 project list.

Flickr pool photo by pderby

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