How the Virginia General Assembly could impact your commute

As Virginia’s General Assembly works through the annual deluge of proposed bills, resolutions, and budget amendments, a significant portion of this year’s legislative work is focused on critical transportation issues.

The state is heading into its fourth year using its SMART SCALE system to more objectively and transparently evaluate projects competing for limited transportation funding. SMART SCALE was developed, in part, to avoid failed projects like the proposed new Route 460, which cost taxpayers almost $250 million before being abandoned as unaffordable and destructive without addressing a pressing transportation need.

Yet at least seven measures in the General Assembly seek to boost individual projects without going through SMART SCALE, while additional bills would manipulate the criteria used in evaluations in a way that would favor certain types of projects.

“SMART SCALE is a nationally-recognized model for getting funding decisions into the open and for making it more difficult to advance costly boondoggles,” said Trip Pollard, SELC’s Land and Community Program leader. “We must forego legislative earmarks and pursue objective, transparent funding decisions to get the best bang for the buck for taxpayer funds.”

Another major issue for the 2018 General Assembly is funding for the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority. A strong transit system in the D.C. area is key to Virginia’s economic development, given its proven ability to attract companies and connect workers with jobs. It is also essential for reducing congestion, air pollution, and sprawl in the region. Without dedicated funding, improvements will continue to be piecemeal, service will likely be cut, and fares raised—all of which reduce ridership. To help tackle the need for dedicated funding, SELC recently joined the MetroNow coalition of businesses, elected officials, and others looking for solutions.

Virginia also faces a pressing need for statewide transit capital funding, since bonds for investments such as replacing buses and railcars are about to expire. Transit plays a significant role in economic development, congestion reduction, and reducing air pollution throughout the Commonwealth, and SELC strongly supports new transit capital funding.

“Funding for transit statewide and in the D.C. region is critical to promoting cleaner transportation and stronger communities across the Commonwealth,” Pollard said. “SELC is focused on ensuring that the necessary funding is secured.”