A busy street in the East Falls Church neighborhood is slated to get safer crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.
Arlington County has selected N. Sycamore Street between Langston Blvd and 19th Street N. — near the East Falls Church Metro station and not far from the W&OD Trail — as site of a new Complete Streets project. This segment “presents intersection crossing challenges for bicyclists and pedestrians,” according to the project webpage.
The intersection of N. Sycamore Street and Washington Blvd, within the project’s boundaries, was the site of a fatal crash last Wednesday. Prior to the crash, the street segment has seen one serious collision between 2013 and this summer: one with severe injuries in 2019, according to Arlington County crash data.
The webpage for the project went live two weeks ago, says Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Kathryn O’Brien. County staff will soon solicit public feedback that will be used to develop a concept plan.
“Existing Conditions Feedback will kick off later in November,” O’Brien said. “This feedback, along with other data and planning guidance, will help staff formulate a concept design. Once staff have developed a community-informed concept, that concept will be shared for additional public feedback.”
Funding for changes to N. Sycamore Street, first identified as having a need for safety upgrades in 2011, was included in the 2022-24 Capital Improvements Plan adopted this summer. It’s been a long road to get the project on the schedule, however.
Staff developed preliminary plans in 2015 and, in 2016, twice applied unsuccessfully for transportation grants for the 2018 fiscal year, O’Brien said.
In 2017, the county successfully applied for and received $250,000 in Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing funds for the 2020 fiscal year. Then, the pandemic hit.
“This project was deferred as part of the FY 2021 CIP, due to revenue constraints because of COVID,” she said.
Since 2011, staff have studied the street twice and have some hypothetical designs on hand as a result.
In 2015, the county received a grant to study ways to improve pedestrian and cycling access to the East Falls Church Metro station, once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.
Four years later, the county received a grant to study a gap in the W&OD Trail, where trail users are routed through Benjamin Banneker Park and residential streets.
Improved crossings at 19th Street N. could be an interim solution to the gap, according to the project page.
Although this transportation project’s scope is bound by 19th Street N. and Langston Blvd, eventually, the county envisions improved bicycle amenities further up and down N. Sycamore Street.
“The 2019 adopted Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan recommends N. Sycamore Street as an enhanced bicycle facility between Williamsburg Blvd and the East Falls Church line,” the project page says.
Arlington will be coordinating the project with planned stormwater improvements to Crossman Run as well as a project to add bus bays and improve bus circulation at the nearby Metro station.
The project is funded with a mix of Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, local and state funding, plus bond funds.
Hat tip to Stephen Repetski
Arlington County is applying for an $80 million grant to help pay for a proposed west entrance to the Ballston Metro station.
On Saturday, the County Board authorized the application to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), which helped cover the cost to develop designs for the second Metro entrance in 2016.
The entrance would be located at N. Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street, almost a quarter of a mile west of the existing entrance. A county report says the second entrance would greatly expand multimodal access to the station and provide greater capacity to, and efficiency for, Metro.
As part of the proposal, the county would build two street-level elevators and stairs connecting to an underground passageway, the report said. A new mezzanine with stairs and elevators would connect riders to the train platform.
“This is an economic development application in addition to a transportation step,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in the Saturday meeting. “This is a very important step as we continue to plan smart and build well for our community and future.”
The county unsuccessfully asked NVTA for $33.5 million for the project in 2019.
New cost estimates are firmer, and higher, than the 2019 proposal, according the report. The project is expected to cost $140 million, an increase of $10 million from 2019.
Rising costs can be attributed to inflation and having more detailed plans, the report said.
“The County’s funding plan for Ballston West Entrance has shifted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated impacts to local, regional, and state funding,” the county said.
In addition, the county is no longer relying on two additional funding sources that were both hit by the pandemic: Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s (NVTC) I-66 Commuter Choice Program or the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
NVTC grant funds are generated by toll revenues from I-66 inside the Beltway, which is down due to COVID-19, while the state rail department is focusing its resources on helping with transit maintenance and replacement projects.
“Therefore, a proportion of planned project funding for the Ballston West Entrance now unrealized from DRPT and NVTC is now being covered by the County’s application to the NVTA,” the county said.
The rising costs dismayed members of the Transportation Commission, according to a letter from Commission Chair Chris Slatt.
“While supportive of this project, multiple commissioners expressed great concern about the ballooning cost of these Metrorail second entrance projects and the large opportunity cost it presents,” Slatt said. “It is hard not to think about the other transportation projects that could be built for $140 million that would potentially move more people. That would build a lot of sidewalks, protected bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes.”
Arlington County plans to put the project into its next 10-year Capital Improvement Plan, which would begin in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
If approved, the grant and other regional transportation projects will be included in NVTA’s 2022-27 Six Year Program Update. The authority is slated to take action on that update, which will also have a schedule for each project, next July.
Map via Google Maps
Some local developers are now set to hand over more than $6.8 million to help the county afford a second entrance to the Ballston Metro station, a project officials have hoped to finish for years in order to open up access to the subway stop for people living and working along N. Glebe Road.
The newfound cash stems from the long-stalled redevelopment of an office building at 4420 Fairfax Drive, which sits above the county’s planned spot for the new Metro entrance. The project’s backers are now offering up the money to help fund the entrance’s construction, in exchange for the County Board agreeing to extend deadlines for the redevelopment through end of 2022.
Originally, development firm JBG Smith was backing the project, known as “the Spire at Fairmont,” and it planned to build a new Metro entrance station at the same time as it constructed a new mixed-use building on the site. But that effort languished for close to a decade, and JBG sold the property to its current owners — Washington Capitol Partners, Kettler Development and Bognet Construction — in 2015.
That group has made little progress, however, and the “site plan” the county approved governing the redevelopment effort is rapidly nearing its July 2020 expiration date. Accordingly, the developers are looking for an extension, and negotiations with the county heated up earlier this year.
As part of that back-and-forth, Arlington officials told the developers that they weren’t interested in waiting for the new, 23-story structure to be built before moving ahead with the Metro entrance project. Instead, they asked for a simple cash contribution, and the companies eventually agreed, according to a staff report prepared for the County Board.
“The county has decided that it may be prudent to proceed on its own with the complete design and construction of the Ballston West Entrance… which would be more efficient considering differing time frames for completion of the developer’s project and transit improvement,” staff wrote.
Some of that urgency stems from the fact that Arlington previously won about $26 million in state funding for the project, but has yet to spend much of it. Officials don’t see any imminent threat that the funding could be “clawed back,” but are nonetheless anxious to show some progress on the project.
In general, it’s been tough sledding for the county to find any cash to power the construction in recent months.
Arlington was counting on regional transportation dollars to kickstart the project, asking for $72 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to wrap it up. But the group declined t0 hand out any cash for it — after losing out on tens of millions as part of the vagaries of the deal to provide dedicated funding to Metro — and Arlington was forced to push back its plans for the entrance by several years.
Any timeline for the project is still murky, however. The staff report notes that JBG paid an engineering firm to prepare some designs for the new entrance, but those plans were never “accepted by WMATA or the county.” The new developers have taken control of those plans, and if the county finds they’re up to snuff, Arlington officials could agree to reduce the cash payment they need to pony up.
The developers are also set to send the county just under $410,000 to secure some other zoning changes to allow construction to move ahead. Current plans call for 237 apartments and 9,200 square feet of retail space to be built on the site, in addition to a garage with 237 parking spaces.
The County Board is scheduled to sign off on the details of this deal at its meeting Saturday (March 16). The matter is slated to be considered as part of the Board’s consent agenda, which is largely reserved for noncontroversial items approved without debate.
A pair of state lawmakers are pushing to revive a proposal to raise some Northern Virginia tax rates to fund Metro, a key priority of Arlington and other localities around the region feeling a budget squeeze.
A bill now backed by Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th District) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) would bump up taxes slightly on real estate transactions and hotel stays in the jurisdictions that benefit from Metro service. The legislation is broadly similar to Gov. Ralph Northam’s push to raise those rates last year, as lawmakers squabbled over the best way to find a dedicated funding stream for the troubled transit service.
That effort failed, even as state lawmakers did agree on a bill to send $154 million to WMATA annually, as part of a first-of-its-kind, three-way deal with Maryland and D.C. to send dedicated money to Metro each year. Republicans, led by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), insisted on pulling cash away from other sources instead of raising taxes to pay for the deal.
Primarily, that change redirected funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that hands out sales tax money to help localities fund major transportation projects. Arlington officials, in particular, were irked to see the group lose cash, as many were counting on the NVTA to help the county fund major transportation projects while Arlington’s own budget picture grew a bit grimmer.
One of the main projects the county was hoping to fund with NVTA money — a second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station — is now set to receive millions in state funds, thanks largely to its inclusion in the deal to bring Amazon to the area.
But Arlington officials have also had to push out plans to build new entrances at the Ballston and East Falls Church Metro stations, in part due to the NVTA’s money problems. The County Board included a request for just this change as part of its legislative wish list for the new General Assembly session, and local Democrats have broadly been receptive to renewing this fight in the months since Northam’s effort failed.
The governor himself previously told ARLnow that he’d seek to bring back the tax increases to restore money for the NVTA — his spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this piece of legislation.
Should it pass, the bill would send about $30 million back into the NVTA’s coffers each year, according to documents prepared for the Commonwealth Transportation Board. However, the NVTA has estimated its annual funding losses due to the Metro deal as closer to $100 million each year.
“We appreciate Del. Watts’ efforts to restore funding to the NVTA,” Executive Director Monica Backmon told ARLnow via email. “We have not conducted a detailed analysis of the bill at this time. However, we anticipate discussing this bill and others at the Feb.14 authority meeting.”
A NVTA spokeswoman added that Watts’ bill is the only one introduced this session to restore the group’s funding via the tax increases.
But with Republicans still holding narrow majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, the bill could well face an uphill battle.
Notably, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-66th District) assigned the legislation to the House’s Rules Committee, a group of powerful lawmakers. While other committees are balanced to reflect the partisan makeup of the House, the Rules Committee is dominated by Republicans on an 11-6 margin, leading many Democrats to accuse Cox of sending bills to the committee to expedite their failures.
The group is also unique among House committees in that it can send bills directly to the floor for a vote, rather than casting a ballot on whether or not to advance the legislation. That allows Cox to force a vote from the full House on a bill, should he choose to do so.
The committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill, however.
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.”
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
(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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.