Virginia’s Commitment to Transit Funding Creates a Wealth of New Projects Benefiting the Commonwealth
Virginia has a long history of commitment to mass transit. The Washington, D.C. region’s Metro system, the result of a 1967 interstate compact that created the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), is perhaps the most obvious example. Metro, currently composed of 91 stations (25 of which are in Virginia), initially was created to connect suburban Virginia to the District, the region’s largest employment center. In the subsequent decades, however, Virginia performed strongly in its own right. Businesses and knowledge workers have flocked to the state, in large part due to the variety of transit services and connectivity options.
Recent years have seen a renewed commitment to transit, in particular transit financing, which will serve the Commonwealth’s businesses and residents and ensure that the state continues to remain competitive and attractive for years to come. Two years ago, Virginia passed landmark legislation, HB2313, to fund transportation infrastructure across all modes. Specific provisions increase access to funding for mass transit in Northern Virginia.
The opening of Phase One of the Silver Line, an expansion of Metro that stands as the nation’s largest transit infrastructure project in recent memory, is just one chapter of the story that began in 1964. Since last summer, Metro opened the Silver Line, serving the busy Tysons Corner business area; Virginia Rail Express (VRE) broke ground on two new stations, one in Prince William County and the other in Spotsylvania; and Metroway, the region’s first bus rapid transit (BRT), began service in Alexandria and Arlington. More recently, various combinations of federal, regional and local transportation agencies have partnered to expand The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach, plan BRT in Richmond, and identify high-quality transit to serve the Route 7 corridor, home to one of the nation’s oldest thoroughfares. Across Virginia, people recognize the value of transit in connecting people and businesses to opportunities.
Virginia has demonstrated a strong commitment to transit investment that supports economic growth through new funding legislation, an infrastructure bank loan for transit, and multimodal approach to addressing congestion in the I-66 corridor. Earlier this year, the Commonwealth approved the first loan by the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank (VTIB) for an infill Metro station in Alexandria.
The VTIB has approved a $50 million loan, which will cover a portion of the station’s projected $209 to $268 million cost. Significantly, Alexandria will rely on value-capture as a key component of the project. Owners of the adjacent land will reap an economic windfall when 300 acres become available for high-density development. Developers will contribute approximately $74 million to the project through direct contributions, $194 million through special tax district contributions, and millions of dollars more through payment of taxes used to service City of Alexandria municipal bonds.
Dubbed “Potomac Yard,” the new Metro station will be situated in a neighborhood of Alexandria only five miles from the District’s core. The entire neighborhood was for years a defunct railroad switching station, not able to be developed for environmental reasons. The high value of the land prompted its remediation and cleanup, which was completed in 1998.
Plans for the Potomac Yard neighborhood call for the creation of up to 7,100 residential units and 4.2 million square feet of office space, nearly 800,000 square feet of retail, and 740 hotel rooms. Alexandria plans to use transportation demand management (TDM) to distribute peak traffic over longer periods, maximize internal trips, and get as many area residents as possible onto transit.
Expected to open in 2018, the station will be situated along Metro’s Blue and Yellow Lines. The Federal Transit Administration projected that the Potomac Yard station will not only spur development in the area, but also add about 5,000 additional transit riders.
New Funding for Transit Capital. Just two years after passage of the first new transportation bill in 35 years, the Virginia General Assembly approved an omnibus transportation bill, HB1187, providing $40 million in new assistance for state-of-good-repair and maintenance projects across the state and $2 million in funding for TDM efforts. This legislation provides much needed capital for systems statewide and provides important new funds to maximize the throughput on crowded highways across Virginia. In a comprehensive effort to address congestion on I-66, the Commonwealth has turned to transit to relieve congestion and maximize the use of existing roadways. Express lanes along I-66 outside the Beltway (I-495) and HOT (high-occupancy travel) lanes in both directions during peak travel periods inside the beltway are in the offing. Virginia’s innovative uses of data and technology will increase understanding of how people really travel. The Commonwealth plans to use toll revenues to fund transit projects in the corridor through a partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the region’s transit organization, in coordination with local governments.
While there has been important momentum, much remains to be done on transit. Virginia will need to continue to find multiple ways to fund transit operations, maintenance and expanded service. New investments in transit are critical to providing high quality service to riders and to Virginia’s economic vitality.
[Sidebar] Recent Virginia Projects
The Silver Line. The first phase of the Silver Line brings Metrorail into the western part of Northern Virginia, attracting thousands of new riders a day. The project includes five new stations, beginning at the existing East Falls Church stop, passing through Fairfax County’s Tysons Corner and culminating in Reston at Wiehle Avenue. It is the largest expansion of Metro by route mileage since the system opened in 1976. Already, the transit line is changing the fabric of Fairfax County, spurring the retrofitting of Tysons into a walkable, urban environment and creating millions of dollars in new economic development in Northern Virginia. Phase Two will bring Metrorail to Dulles International Airport and serve communities in Loudoun County.
Bus Rapid Transit. With Metroway’s opening last August, the D.C. metropolitan region celebrated the arrival of its first BRT service. Located on Route 1 in Alexandria and Arlington, Metroway’s bold, blue buses travel in a dedicated lane, or transitway. Incorporating the best components of rail and bus, Metroway BRT provides premium-quality public transit at a fraction of the cost of rail. Metroway offers frequent service to Braddock Road, Crystal City, and Potomac Yard, connecting commuters with shopping, restaurants, businesses and Metrorail.
Metroway ridership has been brisk, outperforming traditional bus routes on the same stretch of Route 1. It has been so successful, in fact, that the system soon will add another mile of transit lanes, officials say. The next phase of Metroway will open later this spring. In the meantime, state and local officials are moving forward on preliminary design work that will bring BRT, and eventually Metrorail, to the eastern part of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Metroway won’t be the only BRT in Virginia. Richmond is in line for enhanced bus service, dubbed BRT Pulse, in 2017. BRT Pulse – a $54 million project funded with state, local and federal money – is a state-of-the-art system featuring 14 stations and a dedicated lane that runs along a 7.6-mile corridor of Broad Street, from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing.
Two New VRE Stations. Last summer, VRE broke ground on two new stations. The Spotsylvania station is the first extension of VRE’s Fredericksburg Line since it opened in the mid-1990s. The second station, Potomac Shores in south Woodbridge, is a $15 million facility projected to open in 2017. This station, overlooking the Potomac River from atop a hilly bluff facing a riverfront boardwalk, will bring new economic growth to Prince William County. Already VRE takes 500,000 commuters off Virginia’s roads each day, and the new stations will only add to this achievement.
I-66 Corridor Project. Outside the Beltway, bus-based transit will use the I-66 express lanes to rapidly travel along the interstate. An innovative approach will utilize and match the existing infrastructure and environment, allowing the maximum of number of people to move more quickly to their destinations. Inside the Beltway, VDOT proposes express toll lanes – open to all but free to HOV-3 vehicles – along the entire corridor to maximize throughput and ease congestion. Virginia also proposes to use toll revenues to fund transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the corridor.
The Tide. Light rail in Norfolk is allowing millions of riders to effortlessly traverse between the numerous downtown assets of this urban, waterfront community. The Tide, operated by Hampton Roads Transit, is helping transform the city’s reputation from that of a staid and military-dominated area into that of an urban pioneer. The success of the $318 million project, currently in its fourth year of operation, has not only led Norfolk to plan an expansion of the system further into the city, but has motivated Virginia Beach to seek its own extension to connect the beach community with its more urban neighbor to the west.