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Feb
24

Changing How Transportation Projects Are Prioritized in Virginia

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.

Chart A

Chart A

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

4) Safety.

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.

Chart B

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.

Chart C

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.

Feb
24

Celebrate Historic Garden Week!

By Karen Cauthen Ellsworth

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Magnolia, photo courtesy of the Garden Club of Virginia.

From its inception nearly a century ago, the Garden Club of Virginia has highlighted policy issues directed at the environment and sustainability.  Its 47 member clubs are comprised of more than 3,300 volunteers.  They have long advocated to conserve natural resources, plant trees and promote environmentally sustainable gardening.  The Garden Club of Virginia encourages the use of native plants.  Gardeners everywhere know that setting plants in the proper location reduces maintenance and watering requirements, and eliminates or reduces the need for and use of commercial pesticides and fertilizers.

A native landscape does not need to be mowed like a conventional lawn, reducing the demand for non-renewable resources and improving water and air quality. Landscaping with wildflowers and grasses improves the ecosystem. Birds, butterflies, bees and other plants are attracted to these plants, enhancing biodiversity. “One has only to drive by a Kudzu infested roadside to understand how invasive plants rob native plants of their natural habitat,” notes Tuckie Westfall, Conservation Chairman of this statewide organization.

Renowned for its popular Historic Garden Week, the nation’s only statewide house and garden tour, the Garden Club of Virginia celebrates the beauty of the land, conserves the gifts of nature and challenges future generations to build on this heritage. This fundraiser began when a flower show organized by Garden Club of Virginia volunteers raised funds to save trees planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. More than 80 years later, proceeds from local Historic Garden Week tours continue to fund the restoration and preservation of nearly 40 of the Commonwealth’s significant historic public gardens, two annual research fellowships, as well as a new initiative with Virginia’s state parks.

This spring, there are four tours involving seven clubs in the Northern Virginia area alone.

Old Town Alexandria – Saturday, April 23

Overlooking the Potomac River and within view of our Nation’s Capital, Old Town was only the third city in the country to create a historic district to preserve its downtown.  Today, it has 4,000 buildings with this designation. The leisurely walking tour includes five homes with small, urban gardens and admission to several nearby historic sites including the Carlyle House Historic Park. When British merchant John Carlyle completed his riverfront house in 1753, this was the grandest mansion in the new town of Alexandria. The Garden Club of Virginia restored the front landscape to the mid-18th-century period using proceeds from past Historic Garden Week tours. “On the day of the tour, visitors can purchase herbs, native plants and crafts on the grounds of this landmark property,” says Catherine Thompson, one of the Chairmen for the Old Town Alexandria tour. “Mount Vernon brings plants from the estate gardens to sell and many of those are native Virginia species.” George Washington’s estate is also a restoration project of the Garden Club of Virginia.

Winchester – Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24

Going out of town, this rural tour showcases four estates dating from 1782 to 1993. “Visitors might not realize that their ticket purchase helps to preserve and restore historic gardens in the immediate area. Take a side trip to the State Arboretum of Virginia and experience one of the nearby gardens that Historic Garden Week has helped to sustain and grow,” explains Anne Buettner, one of the Tour Chairmen for the Winchester-Clarke County tour. The 175-acre Historic Blandy Experimental Farm at the State Arboretum is in nearby Boyce.  It contains over 5,000 woody trees and shrubs from around the world. A property of the University of Virginia since 1926, it is currently operated under its department of Environmental Services. Stone walls along Dogwood Lane that once led to the manor house of the original farm were rebuilt in 2004 by the Garden Club of Virginia using proceeds from past tours. Walking trails wind through the property, including the Native Plant Trail where visitors will see early blooming spring ephemeral wildflowers like bloodroot, bluebells and trillium. These harbingers of spring are followed by violet, wild geranium, wild blue phlox and mayapple.

Middleburg – Sunday, April 24 and Monday, April 25

Nestled against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this tour features four estates all located within the 18,000-acre Crooked Run Rural Historic District just to the west of Middleburg. “Thanks to the stewardship of local land owners, thousands of acres are protected by privately held conservation easements providing for lasting enjoyment of our architecture and rural beauty,” notes June Hambrick, President of the Leesburg Garden Club and Tour Chairman for the Middleburg tour. “Visitors and residents alike rejoice at the sight of stone walls, grazing horses and cows, century old oaks, rock roads and homes of our Founders here, all within 50 minutes of the Capital beltway,” she points out. GCV members are very active in community-based environmental groups working with the citizens to conserve land, protect air and water quality and restore wildlife natural habitat. “These efforts are crucial to maintaining a cherished way of life in this part of Virginia,” notes Sally Fletcher, Historic Garden Week District Chairman in Northern Virginia.

Falls Church – Arlington – Tuesday, April 26

Back inside the Beltway, Falls Church is a small city, two miles square.  Full of history and charming urban gardens, Arlington borders Falls Church on the east. Featured gardens on this Historic Garden Week tour include four 100-year-old holly trees, mature boxwoods delineating garden rooms, an herb garden and a garden of Victorian era plants. Landscaping choices have meaningful effects on local populations of birds and the insects. Situated in a 38-acre wooded stream valley, Gulf Branch Natural Area in Arlington preserves and protects wildlife habitat.  This suburban park is a sanctuary for a surprising number of plant and animal species and is a nearby attraction for gardening enthusiasts. On tour day, a naturalist will be available to talk with visitors about bees, one of our local pollinators, and they can experience the observation beehive. Without native plants our native bees could not survive. Many people don’t realize that honey bees are not native to America; they came with the European colonists and then quickly spread over the continent.

“The best way to protect our bee population is to educate people, which is what we are doing by promoting the Gulf Branch Nature Center,” explains Tricia Goins, Tour Chairman for the Arlington/Falls Church tour.  “We want to encourage people to plant native plants to help our population of bees.  The Gulf Branch Nature Center provides a beautiful, natural, green space – a place where our neighbors can learn how to create one in their own gardens.”

In his book Garden Tourism, Richard W. Benfield notes, “More people travel to gardens in America than visit Disneyland and Disneyworld combined.” Approximately 30,000 people will visit sites across Virginia over eight consecutive days this April. Clearly, gardens are important and provide a unique educational opportunity for organizations like the Garden Club of Virginia to educate the public on the value of native plants and beneficial horticulture. While the primary motivation for attending Historic Garden Week is typically to enjoy the spectacular private homes and gardens that are open exclusively in support of its mission, there are additional benefits.  “We estimate that over 2,000 flower arrangements will be created to decorate homes featured on Historic Garden Week this spring.  Using native and seasonal flowers is a point of pride for our club members since most of the plant materials come directly from their personal gardens,” explains Meg Clement, this year’s State Chairman.  “Our arrangers also participate in flower shows around the state so they bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the process.”

Visit www.vagardenweek.org for a complete tour schedule, to purchase tickets and for details regarding itineraries and Garden Club of Virginia current restoration sites.  Karen Cauthen Ellsworth is the Director of Historic Garden Week.

Feb
24

An Innovative Approach to Learning How to Use Transit in Fairfax

What many may assume is the smallest hurdle that a resident or commuter must jump to use mass transit is often the most intimidating reason why people don’t use the region’s bus and METROrail systems. That hurdle is the sometimes daunting factor of how to physically use the payment systems, understand the schedules, and navigate between the systems.   This intimidating factor is so great, that some residents/commuters don’t even try transit.

Unfortunately, for our growing elderly populations and some underserved residents, the choice not to use transit is very isolating because they have no other transportation options.

The Fairfax County Department of Trans-portation, in conjunction with the Fairfax Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, has developed an orientation program that uses a technologically innovative Connector bus to provide hands-on experience and information on how to use the region’s mass transit system.  The bus, called MATT (Mobile Accessible Travel Training), has been renovated and designed for training senior citizens to travel safely and independently on regional transit systems.

According to the Fairfax County website, “County staff will coordinate ‘travel training’ trips in which seniors will travel by bus and rail transit to and from a destination of their choice. The travelers-in-training will identify a bus stop near their residence, learn to read bus schedules and route maps, learn how to pay the fare and how to signal the driver to stop, as well as other bus travel skills. The bus will deliver seniors to a Metrorail station where they will learn how to determine the fare and purchase Metrorail fare cards, load SmarTrip cards, read the system map, and board the trains to travel by rail.”

The MATT bus is a traveling classroom that is handicap and hearing impaired accessible and features “a special area in the rear for classroom-like instruction. The classroom area includes audio and video components that can play VCR tapes, DVDs and computer-driven programs that will be shown on three LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) television screens, two of which are mounted on the ceiling of the bus.”

Through the efforts of Supervisor Hudgins and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, the bus was put into service in 2004.  In the future, DATA intends to more closely coordinate some of its outreach activities with the MATT bus and the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.  Stay tuned for more information on these endeavors.

Feb
24

Bikeshare is Coming to Reston and Tysons

On January 12th, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized expenditures of $1.6 million for the purchase of bikeshare equipment and implementation of the bikeshare program in Reston and Tysons.  Bikeshare stations are projected to open in the fall of 2016.

Photo courtesy of Sam Kittner, Capital Bikeshare.

Photo courtesy of Sam Kittner, Capital Bikeshare.

Bikeshare is a transportation system that allows individuals to check out a bike and ride short to moderate distances from station to station. A system of bikeshare stations and bicycles are set up in an area to allow participants to travel between destinations that are generally further than walking, without driving. As a result, roadway congestion is reduced.

In the Washington D.C. area, Capital Bikeshare is the existing bikeshare system that operates in Washington D.C., Arlington County, Alexandria, and Montgomery County. There are currently over 370 stations in the Capital Bikeshare system in these jurisdictions.

In 2014, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) awarded Fairfax County a Transportation and Land Use Connection grant to study the feasibility of launching a bikeshare system. The results of the study showed that bikeshare could succeed as a viable transportation option in Reston.

The Reston Bikeshare system will consist of 15 stations and 132 bicycles located between the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station and Reston Town Center area. Reston Bikeshare received grant funding from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The Tysons Bikeshare system will consist of 11 stations and 80 bicycles located in Tysons to the east of Route 7, north of Route 123, and south of the Dulles Toll Road.  Tysons Partnership is providing a financial contribution of $110,000 towards capital cost of the Tysons system.

The two Fairfax bikeshare initiatives should be fully operational by the Fall of 2016.  For more information on Capital Bikeshare and how to become a member and/or how to use bikeshare, go to www.capitalbikeshare.com.

 

Feb
24

From the CEO’s Desk

Isn’t Earth Day everyday?  Think about it, without the “mothership” what exactly would we be celebrating–moon day?  Ok, a little tongue-in-cheek motivation for everyone to really think about your personal impact on “mother earth,” every day, not just once a year.

@livemore and the Dulles Area Transportation Association attempt to bring this focus to your everyday lives by educating you on the choices you have that can really make a difference not only in your quality of life, but also on the sustainability of our world habitat.

In this edition of  @livemore, we highlight a number of festivals that are being held in correspondence to the area’s recognition of Earth Day, as well as the fledgling emergence of spring.  We are also highlighting Historic Garden Week – one of the most popular and attended occasions in Virginia; learning more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) networks; and thinking about where to find your local farmers markets this spring. We are also providing you with some important information on changes that have been recently instituted by VDOT in how they rank and prioritize road construction and improvement projects.

As we all “emerge” from our Snowzilla/winter cocoons, there are many things we can do to prepare for spring and summer – we hope this edition gives you some “food” for thought, and provides some impetus for you to give Mother Earth a hug on her special day (which is everyday) by making one simple change in your life, once a week, that helps our environment.  Take transit, carpool, telework, recycle more, plant a tree, etc.  By doing so, we hope your actions also help you livemore and commute less!

As Always-Best Regards,

James N. Larsen
Executive Director/CEO
Dulles Area Transportation Association