By Andrew G. Beacher, P.E.
Have you ever wondered if there is a better, more transparent way to fund transportation projects in Virginia? Your state representatives have, and, as a result, the Commonwealth has embarked on a groundbreaking new effort to change the way it allocates funding for transportation projects. In 2014, Governor McAuliffe signed into law the legislation known as House Bill 2 (HB2) which creates a framework by which proposed transportation projects are rated according to their potential benefits. This information can then be considered by the Commonwealth Trans-portation Board (CTB) in its selection of which projects to fund.
With the passing of this new legislation, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), under the leadership of Virginia’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation, have worked to implement HB2, using the framework established under the new law to develop a process by which potential projects may be vetted and scored, and ultimately considered for funding.
The HB2 Process
Under HB2, Regional Entities (such as Metropolitan Planning Organizations), Localities (Counties, Cities and Towns), and Public Transit Agencies are eligible to submit candidate projects in accordance with certain criteria (outlined below). It is noted that while the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Northern Virginia is the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, which resides at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, for HB2 purposes, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has assumed this role. See Chart A.
All projects submitted must pass through an initial screening which is tied directly to the Commonwealth’s statewide long-range transportation plan, VTrans2040. VTrans2040 examines Virginia’s transportation needs in four categories:
1) Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSSs), which represent the interregional travel market (examples of CoSSs in Northern Virginia include Interstate 66, Route 29, Interstate 95, and the North-South Corridor in Loudoun and Prince William Counties);
2) Regional Networks, which represent the intraregional travel market (in Northern Virginia, the designated regional network includes all roads within the boundaries of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which includes Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington Counties, as well as the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park);
3) Urban Development Areas (UDAs), which represent local activity centers (such as Tysons Corner); and
For HB2, each candidate project must meet a VTrans need in at least one of these categories in order to be scored. If a project is screened out, it will not proceed to scoring, and therefore would not be eligible for HB2 funds.
Once a project has been screened in, it is scored across five factor areas: congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality, plus one additional factor area, the land use factor, for areas over 200,000 in population, such as Northern Virginia. Within each factor area, there are anywhere from one to three measures that have been identified to calculate a project’s overall score. These measures were chosen with the goal that they: 1) analyze what matters to people and have meaningful impact; 2) ensure fair and accurate benefit-cost analyses; 3) are both transparent and understandable; 4) work for both urban and rural areas; 5) work for all modes of transportation, and 6) minimize overlap between measures.
The measures for each of the factor areas are displayed in Chart B.
Upon calculation of the factor scores, one of four weighting frameworks is applied to the scores to reflect the different characteristics of the diverse regions of the Commonwealth. In urban areas, such as Northern Virginia, congestion mitigation is weighted the highest, while in other portions of the Commonwealth, congestion is weighted lower, with other factors such as accessibility or safety receiving higher percentages. The four weighting frameworks, as adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, are illustrated in the following table, with Northern Virginia falling into Category A: See Chart C.
Finally, the summation of the weighted factor scores for each of the factor areas is used to determine the overall project score, which is then compared to both the overall project cost, as well as the HB2 cost (in other words, the amount of funds being requested through HB2) to determine the project’s relative benefits versus costs.
Inaugural Round and Next Steps
Earlier this year, after soliciting feedback from around the state, the Commonwealth rolled out the HB2 implementation process to jurisdictions, regional entities and transit agencies, and established a timeline for application submissions. The inaugural application period closed on September 30, 2015, with over 300 applications received (46 in Northern Virginia alone). Initial screening, validation and scoring have since been completed, and results were presented to the CTB at their January, 2016 workshop. Projects will be considered by the CTB over the next several months, and ultimately, their selections for funding will be incorporated into the Commonwealth’s Six-Year Improvement Plan (SYIP), scheduled to be finalized in June, 2016.
For more information on House Bill 2, including scoring results, please visit the official website at: www.virginiahb2.org. Andrew Beacher is Assistant Transportation Planning Director for VDOT – Northern Virginia District.