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Perspective in Virginia: Maintain a Strong Federal Role in Public Transit and Rail

Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

Any major infrastructure funding or reauthorization program must recognize the clear federal role necessary to promote interstate commerce through the development of multimodal transportation options.

Virginia’s transportation system is increasingly multimodal, particularly in the metropolitan areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. We also see greater demand for public transit in smaller cities such as Lynchburg, Blacksburg and Roanoke to revitalize communities and attract the workforce for tomorrow, and rapidly increasing demand for paratransit and human-service transportation in rural areas across the state.

This year, the commonwealth will invest more than $700 million in state revenues dedicated to enhancing public transportation and passenger rail. These funds will support the operation and capital needs of 44 transit systems and human-service agencies, 34 Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail trains and nine state-sponsored Amtrak routes.

While Virginia has stepped up to provide funding to public transit systems, we cannot do it alone; we need the federal government to maintain a strong commitment to transportation funding, including investments in transit and passenger rail.

The majority of our state capital funding goes to state-of-good-repair needs. Between now and 2027, Virginia’s public transit agencies will need $4.1 billion just to maintain existing assets in a state of good repair; however, we will only have $1.1 billion to put toward these capital needs.

Virginia is encouraged by the administration’s commitment to a major infrastructure initiative that can fund projects with national and regional benefits, but that are too cost-prohibitive for a single state to complete without robust federal support.

The I-95 corridor in Virginia is one of the most congested travel corridors in the U.S. Future expansion would outstrip available state resources and the impacts to adjacent communities would be significant. That’s why ­Virginia is developing multimodal solutions, including rail capacity in the DC-­Richmond corridor that runs parallel to I-95.

Unfortunately, we can’t provide more capacity until we expand the Long Bridge—a two-track rail bridge between Virginia and DC. This bridge is a vital link for the whole eastern seaboard and carries all CSX freight, Amtrak and VRE commuter rail traffic in and out of Virginia—roughly 90 trains and 20,000 people per day.

The Long Bridge is also the link between the Northeast and Southeast rail corridors. No nearby alternatives to this bridge exist if it becomes incapacitated; the next nearest rail crossing is approximately 60 miles upstream near Harper’s Ferry, WV.

We are working with DC DOT to expand the Long Bridge to four tracks. Through the Atlantic Gateway project, Virginia is prepared to provide more than $300 million for the track segments approaching the bridge; however, we need federal support to complete the project.

Virginia is a leader in using value capture for major transit expansion projects. For example, the Silver Line Metrorail expansion in Fairfax and Loudoun counties has generated up to $730 million in local funding through value capture to help finance the $6 billion project. The city of Alexandria is funding the Potomac Yard Metro Station using value capture, through approximately $230 million generated in new property taxes around the station, and backed by a state infrastructure bank loan.

However, value capture, alone, cannot solve our transit needs or substitute for federal funding. These approaches are most appropriate for transit expansion projects that generate new property tax revenues. Value capture doesn’t necessarily work to address long-term “legacy” costs or critical safety improvements. It is also important to remember that expansion projects add to our asset inventory and eventually become state-of-good-repair needs.

Virginia is also being creative in finding ways to leverage our existing assets to expand multimodal transportation capacity. Any future federal discretionary programs should reward states that have already taken innovative steps to generate new revenues.

For example, we are dedicating revenues generated by high-occupancy toll lanes in the heavily congested I-66, I-395 and I-64 corridors to increasing public transit options. Our focus in these corridors has been on moving more people—not just moving vehicles. These projects include additional high-occupancy toll lanes, passenger rail improvements, additional VRE service, park-and-ride spaces, bus service improvements and the improvement of several highway bottlenecks along the I-66 and I-95 corridors. The I-66 projects, alone, will move an additional 40,000 people each day.

In Virginia, we are finding ways to leverage our existing infrastructure and making major investments in public transit throughout metropolitan areas, college towns and rural communities. However, it’s not enough. We urge Congress to maintain a strong federal role in multimodal transportation, including continuation of federal formula programs, the Section 5309 Capital Investment Grant program and discretionary programs for transformative infrastructure projects of national significance.

"Commentary" features authoritative points of view from various sources on timely and pressing issues affecting public transportation. APTA would like to hear from you. If you are interested in submitting an original, thought-leader Commentary for consideration, please contact Senior Managing Editor David A. Riddy.

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