Ann Wheeler, chair-elect of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, is ready for a seat at the table to help bring regional transportation dollars back to the region. She told InsideNoVa this week that she plans to serve on the board of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority after she is sworn in Jan. 6.
Since 2002, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has been tasked with long-term regional planning. Since 2013, the authority has allocated $1.9 billion for 122 regional projects.
Wheeler said transit options are among the most important issues to residents in the county and the region, particularly as so many of them head outside of the county to offices in other parts of Northern Virginia and in Washington.
At its Dec. 12 meeting, the authority’s board appointed Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to serve for calendar year 2020. The board also appointed Hal Parrish, Manassas mayor, to serve as the authority’s vice chair. Derrick Wood, Dumfries mayor, was reappointed to serve as the authority’s town representative.
Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, served on the authority’s board for nearly 15 years, including 11 years as chair. He lost his bid to run as the Republican nominee for Prince William chairman in May and did not run for re-election to his supervisor seat.
He said his time on the authority’s board has been rewarding.
“In 2013, we finally got transportation funding that was sustainable,” Nohe said. “We started having revenues that were generated exclusively in Northern Virginia to be used exclusively in Northern Virginia and to be managed by Northern Virginia.”
He said Prince William has been successful by using other resources to leverage the funding it receives from the authority.
“I’ve gotten to really dive deep into policy making of transportation and congestion relief, which is the issue that creates the most stress for people in Northern Virginia,” Nohe said.
The authority has allocated $95 million toward Prince William’s Va. Route 28 project to either widen the road or build a bypass between Manassas and Centreville.
Both options are estimated to cost $300 million, and Prince William voters approved spending $200 million on the project in a November bond referendum. The eventual decision on how to improve the road will come after a federally mandated environmental study is completed.
“My perspective on Route 28 is we’re heavily invested already,” Nohe said. “We cannot let that project lose momentum. Once the environmental study is done, then there are some tough decisions that need to be made. But making tough decisions is why we run for office.”
Nohe said if the county moves forward with funding the Route 28 project with local bonds, it could make the project more attractive to receive additional money from the authority.
“We won’t get an additional $200 million on top of the $95 million; it’s not gonna happen,” he said. “But we could get some of that piece.”
Wheeler will represent the county and be one of 14 voting members on the authority’s board.
Voting members include elected leaders from Prince William, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park. In addition, the authority’s board also has two state delegates, one state senator and two representatives appointed by the governor.
The authority’s board also includes three non-voting members, representing local towns, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Wheeler won’t be the only new member in 2020, and Monica Backmon, the authority’s executive director, said she wants to hold a work session so new members of the authority’s board can be brought up to speed about what the authority is working on. Backmon said the authority is starting to update its six-year plan, covering spending for years 2020-2025.
In June 2018, the authority adopted a six-year plan covering 2018-2023 that identified 44 projects and allocated $1.285 billion in funding, according to the authority.
While the authority has about $400 million to allocate in 2024 and 2025, Backmon said it received 46 applications with project funding requests totaling $1.7 billion. She said staff will analyze the proposed projects’ ability to reduce traffic compared to their cost.
Backmon, who previously was a planner for Prince William, said that as chairman of the authority’s board, Nohe was adept at building consensus and making sure decisions were bipartisan.
“There is a lot of responsibility when you have this level of funding,” she said. “The needs always outweigh the amount of funding we have available.”
Currently, the authority receives a portion of sales tax revenue paid in the region and is required to allocate 70% of its revenue to regional projects and 30% to local jurisdictions.