Earlier this year, The Virginia Secretary of Transportation directed the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI) to conduct a full review of the SMART SCALE process in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). VACo was invited and has participated on the Technical Advisory Committee as part of the program review, which began in April. As of the latest Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting in October, all the proposed changes to the SMART SCALE program have been unveiled. This article will outline these proposed changes to the SMART SCALE program that have been recommended by OIPI staff with input from VDOT, DRPT, CTB members, stakeholders, legislators and other concerned parties.
Small Project Preference
To address concerns that the High Priority Program (HPP) is being used to implement small projects (< $10 million) that do not have meaningful impacts on the improvement of Corridors of Statewide Significance or Regional Networks, the CTB is considering changing the process for how HPP funding is allocated as well as redefining what projects are eligible for HPP funding.
The current funding steps are as follows:
- Step 1 allocates each VDOT construction district’s grant program funding on a district-wide basis.
- Step 2 allocates HPP funding on a district-wide basis.
- Step 3 allocates HPP funding on a statewide basis.
The proposed change would eliminate the current Step 2 and would move straight from Step 1 to Step 3 (sorted by SMART SCALE Score) shown above.
Current projects that are eligible for HPP funding include those that address needs on a Corridor of Statewide Significance or a Regional Network. With the proposed changes, project types would be limited to:
- New Capacity Highway
- Managed Lanes
- New or Improved Interchanges
- New or Improved Passenger Rail Stations or Service
- Freight Rail Improvements
- High Capacity / Fixed Guideway Transit
- Transit Transfer Stations
- New Bridge
Application Quality and Project Readiness
One of the proposed changes to SMART SCALE is reducing the application caps for all entities; this change responds to a concern regarding application quality. This is an area where the final recommendations differs from the original proposed changes. The final recommendations include a proposal to create a three-tier applicant system, which differ from the existing two tiers of applicants as well as raising the application caps slightly from the original recommendations.
The final recommendation application caps are as follows:
- Tier 1 entities (localities with less than 100k people and MPOs PDCs or Transit Agencies with less than 250k people) A cap of 4 preapplications and 3 full applications.
- Tier 2 entities (localities with populations between 100k people and 200k people and MPOs. PDCs or Transit Agencies with populations between 250k people and 500k people) A cap of 5 preapplications and 4 full applications.
- Tier 3 entities (localities with more than 200k people and MPOs PDCs or Transit Agencies with more than 500k people) A cap of 7 preapplications and 6 full applications.
To address project cost overruns and scheduling delays for locally administered projects that have received funding through SMART SCALE, the CTB is considering tying project funding decisions to how well the applying entity performs in project delivery.
To address project readiness, the CTB is considering an approach to streamline document approval before final submission. This entails making sure an applicant has approval for high level documents (cost estimates, reports, project schedules, resolutions, other required attachments) before a project is submitted. VDOT plans to provide earlier and more targeted support to applicants to coincide with the reduction in applications.
To better capture the future impacts of project implementation on congestion impacts, the CTB is considering using 10-year future growth to determine congestion benefit scores instead of current congestion conditions. This is how the congestion factor was calculated in SMART SCALE Rounds 1 & 2 and was modified in Round 3 to prioritize existing conditions.
The economic development factor measures how each project supports economic development and improves the movement of goods. There are concerns that, as currently constructed, this factor does not account for future economic development. VDOT engaged the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) to develop a more forward-looking methodology. This is a high level overview of the recommendations:
According to staff running the review, the current economic scoring methodology does not incorporate key economic priorities.
- The methodology needs to better reflect best-in-class economic impact assessments currently used by VEDP.
- The current process uses manual process of data entry by applicants and then SMART SCALE staff would validate the data.
- Current economic development measures rely on the square footage of sites being developed in the area of influence of the SMART SCALE project.
The proposed changes to the economic development factor seek to include:
- Focus on sites that will attract growth industries, with the inventory captured in a statewide real estate database.
- Job creation and capital investments in sites.
- Estimated potential market demand of sites by including site visits.
A more in depth understanding and breakdown of the economic development factor scoring recommendations can be found from pages 5 to 12 in the CTB Presentation from October which is linked here.
Land Use Factor Change
Concerns raised about the current use of the land use score is that it accounts for where a project is located, not expected project outcomes. There is also concern that the land use score has disproportionately driven the types of projects that are selected for funding. To address these concerns, the CTB is considering a change to eliminate land use as a standalone score. Instead, the Commonwealth Transportation Board is considering using the land use scoring factor as a multiplier. The calculated land use benefit would be converted to a multiplier and would be used to increase benefit points in other factor areas thus enhancing the overall project score.
With the proposed removal of the land use factor and conversion to a multiplier, the CTB is considering reapportioning the points from the land use factor to the safety and congestion factors. This means that the CTB and SMART SCALE will continue to use the land use factor to encourage land use and transportation coordination, but a greater emphasis will be placed on the safety and congestion factors.
The staff recommended redistribution of these points can be found in the chart below.
Those running the SMART SCALE review held a Virtual Town Hall on October 31st where they answered questions regarding these changes and hosted a public comment period. Additional comments regarding the SMART SCALE Review can also be provided by emailing the Team at SmartPortal@CTB.Virginia.gov or by filling out the Online Feedback Form. Additional comments provided by email or the form must be submitted by November 14th. Lastly, the SMART SCALE Team has made all of their Review resources, such as presentations to the CTB and letters regarding the proposed changes from various entities, available to the public which can be accessed here.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board will act on these proposed changes at the December meeting of the Board.
VACo Contact: James Hutzler