Today the Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously voted to adopt a $14.4 billion six-year spending plan, the first since implementing its new "Smart Scale" project prioritization process. The plan allocates more money overall for cleaner transportation options like rail and transit. It also includes a number of projects like the Route 29 Solutions package of improvements in the Charlottesville area that expand travel choices and place a greater emphasis on improving existing highways, rather than constructing costly and destructive new ones.
For decades, decisions about which transportation projects to fund largely occurred behind closed doors, often allowing poorly-designed projects to jump to the front of the line. With the 2014 passage of Virginia’s law requiring project prioritization, the state agreed to rank each proposed project against the same criteria, including environmental impact, and then to share those rankings publicly. SELC spent many hours working with state officials and crafting recommendations on the process for scoring and ranking projects. The idea is to improve transparency and accountabilty when state officials are allocating taxpayer funds in the transportation spending plan. The expectation is that higher-scoring projects will get preference over poorly ranked ones; if low-scoring boondoggles are proposed for funding, decision-makers will have to explain why.
While some aspects of the prioritization process will likely be tweaked, the latest spending plan approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) shows some promising signs. Several projects designed to increase travel options and improve the effectiveness of existing roads are slated for funding.
Improvements to Charlottesville’s Emmet Street (Route 29) from Ivy Road to Arlington Boulevard—one of the most heavily traveled roads in the city and a main entrance to the University of Virginia campus—exemplify the type of work getting more consideration. In addition to coordinating traffic lights to improve traffic flow along this stretch of Route 29, the project will provide travelers with more choices by building bike lanes and a safe path for pedestrians, and improving crosswalks and bus stations. This project was one of numerous multimodal projects throughout the Commonwealth that scored well under the prioritization process and is funded in the new plan.
Virginians parking their cars
Two recent studies show Virginians moving away from driving alone. The state Department of Rail and Public Transportation released its latest figures on how residents move around the state and found that, despite an 8% population increase, single-occupancy car trips dropped 6% since 2007. Notably, the last decade also saw a 20% increase in passenger rail travel. These are all signs that Virginia is moving toward cleaner transportation—and that the transportation policies that SELC has long been promoting are paying off.