On the last day of session, conferees for HB 1539 (Hugo) and SB 856 (Saslaw) agreed on $154 million in dedicated annual dollars for Virginia’s portion to shore up the Metro bus and rail system (under the control of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – WMATA) that serves the D.C. metropolitan area. The original version of SB 856 included $110 million in annual bond funds for all transit systems in the Commonwealth. However, concerns about the Commonwealth’s diminishing debt capacity resulted in this provision being stripped from the final compromise between House and Senate negotiators.
The final compromise also included an overhaul of the administration and disbursement of funds in the Commonwealth Mass Transit Fund. Specifically, 53.5 percent of the restructured fund will go towards Metro, with the remaining amounts going towards all other transit systems for operating, capital, and special projects. Additionally, beginning July 1, 2019, all transit operating and capital funds (except for Metro) will be disbursed according to new prioritization processes and formulas to be developed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). This means that revised applications to include the new prioritization of funds will be drafted over the Spring and Summer, for the CTB to approve in the Fall. VACo will be monitoring this process and will alert members for opportunities to provide input on drafts of the new application process to include prioritization of funds.
The agreement to provide a separate, reliable and permanent source of funds for the Metro system is a significant step. However, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) has identified an average revenue gap of $130 million annually (beginning fiscal year 2020) over the next ten years for all other transit capital needs across the Commonwealth. While the development of the prioritization of all statewide operating and capital transit funds will provide a measure of assurance to state legislators that systems are running efficiently, the General Assembly must still resolve how to maintain existing funding levels for transit. Without it Virginia faces a congestion and mobility crisis with implications for economic growth, public safety and quality of life.
VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP