A new government body created last year by the General Assembly could provide Henrico County with as much as $30 million in new funds annually to address transportation issues.
The region’s newly minted Central Virginia Transportation Authority has been meeting since August as it prepares to begin allocating dollars to projects throughout nine localities. The CVTA was created by Del. Delores McQuinn’s House Bill 1541 and authorized by state legislators last March.
They empowered the authority to collect revenues from an additional regional sales and use tax of 0.7% and a wholesale gas tax of 7.6 cents per gallon on gasoline and 7.7 cents per gallon on diesel fuel – a total that could amount to $150 million in all.
The authority is the third such body in the state, joining the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission.
Last summer, Fairfield District Supervisor Frank Thornton was selected to serve as the CVTA’s Fiscal Year 2021 chairperson.
“The creation of the authority provides the nine-member localities the opportunity to take more ownership in determining the transportation priorities and future investment across the region,” explained Thornton. “The additional funding will be used to improve access, safety, and maintenance across many modes of transportation, including autos, transit, bicycles and pedestrians. These infrastructure projects will improve mobility for all of us and better connect the region. This will make us more competitive economically in attracting new businesses and jobs, as well as enhance the quality of life for all.”
In the coming weeks, localities will begin to determine exactly what their primary needs are. After that, the CVTA will begin to act.
“We will need to identify which projects will qualify for this funding as well as determine when the regional money can be used to leverage other state and federal transportation funding sources – as has successfully been done by the transportation authorities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads,” Thornton said. “Now that Central Virginia has our own dedicated transportation funding, our goal is to be more competitive in securing the limited state and federal transportation dollars.
For Henrico, the CVTA is expected to generate between $20 million and $30 million annually, county Finance Director Meghan Coates told the Henrico Board of Supervisors Jan. 15 during its retreat at Richmond Raceway.
The authority is expected to begin distributing revenues to its member localities soon, Thornton said.
Its governing body consists of 12 voting members and four nonvoting members, and votes are weighted. Each vote made by designees in Henrico, Chesterfield and Richmond are worth four votes. A vote from the Hanover County representative is worth three votes. Representatives from Goochland, New Kent and Powhatan counties are worth two votes. Votes from Charles City and the Town of Ashland are worth one vote.
In addition, there are three committee members from three additional organizations that have a weighted vote of one each: the Virginia House of Delegates, the Senate of Virginia and the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
PlanRVA providing initial support
The authority is being supported by PlanPVA, an organization that already works with representatives from the nine localities “to analyze, plan, consult and collaborate on issues and opportunities that impact every citizen and every community,” according to its website.
“The work that we do at PlanRVA is designed to identify the long-term transportation needs of the region,” said Chet Parsons, director of transportation for PlanRVA. “Now that the CVTA is in place, we are hopeful that those needs can be addressed through the funding that is now available through the authority.
“The regional revenues that are generated are divided into three different pots: The first 50% goes back to the member localities for their discretionary use on any local transportation projects. The next 35% is held by CVTA for use to fund regionally-significant transportation projects – we hope that our work at PlanRVA can help to identify those priorities. The final 15% is set aside for use by GRTC to fund regional transit improvements.”
PlanRVA is providing staffing and support services to the authority through the end of the current fiscal year (June 30), with an option to renew, according to Parsons.
Following its initial organizational meeting Aug. 27, the full authority has met twice more, and individual committees have met a number of times to help establish the functions that will be needed to administer the new revenue.
The CVTA also will oversee a transit governance study to help determine the best policies, processes, and options to ensure accountability for the spending of the regional transit funds, established as by the legislation as 15% of the additional revenues. That study is anticipated to be completed in the spring.
Success depends upon cooperation
If the experiences of the other two regional transportation authorities in the state are any guide, the ultimate success or failure of the CVTA will depend upon how effectively its members work together.
According to NVTA Executive Director Monica Backmon, the authority had to “put the needs of the region first” in order to succeed. To date, it has implemented 106 total projects worth $2.5 billion.
“It’s very important to work as one,” Backmon explained.
Kevin B. Page, the HRTAC’s executive director, echoed Backmon’s sentiments. He explained that the HRTAC has been responsible for nearly $5 billion of highway construction projects in the Hampton Roads region during the past six years. Page credited regional cooperation as the driving force behind the authority’s success.
“Regional cooperation in Hampton Roads could be seen as a best practice example of how HRTAC quickly partnered with the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization to prioritize regional congestion relief projects and the Commonwealth Transportation Board and VDOT to help fund and deliver projects to achieve a greater vision for highway transportation in the region,” he said. “There are great examples of regional transportation entities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that have shown successes to the inherent transportation needs of their regions. I am confident that CVTA and its partners will be successful in the delivery of transportation enhancements to the central Virginia region.”
Similar to HRTAC and NVTA, the CVTA will be working with VDOT, GRTC and the governor’s office. Amy Wight, the assistant secretary of transportation, said that transit within the region needs to grow in order to recover from how COVID-19 has impacted the area economically.
“The pandemic has reinforced how fundamental transit is to our lives and highlighted the importance of having and integrating a multimodal platform – moving essential workers and transporting critical goods,” said Wight. “Transit continues to be a lifeline for many individuals, and it is a crucial component of our comprehensive transportation planning efforts.
“As we move toward economic recovery, our multimodal transportation network will serve as the platform for the commonwealth’s economic growth. We look forward to working with the CVTA, as we have done with the NVTA and HRTAC, to address key transportation needs.”
How the CVTA will work and coexist with VDOT and GRTC remain to be seen, but representatives of both organizations said they are excited for the what the future could bring.
In an email to the Citizen, VDOT officials wrote that the CVTA “is an exciting development in delivering multimodal transportation solutions. The Virginia Department of Transportation anticipates a productive and collaborative partnership with the Central Virginia Transportation Authority to best address the transportation needs of the region.”
GRTC spokesperson Carrie Rose Pace told the Citizen that the collaboration already has begun.
“GRTC is in the process of updating and submitting our regional transportation plan to the CVTA, based on our recently approved Transit Development Plan, and we look forward to the regional discussion about how specifically to fund public transit as one of the essential mobility solutions supported by the CVTA,” she said.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who was elected as the chair of the CVTA Finance Committee, is looking forward to continue to grow the region relationships through the CVTA.
“Throughout my first term, the City of Richmond and its surrounding localities have prioritized and pursued a commitment to regional cooperation, in areas ranging from public health and safety, to economic development and, of course, a better transportation network to connect us all,” Stoney said. “I’m excited about our partnership in the CVTA look forward to collaborating in other areas to utilize our assets to advance our common interests, benefiting not only our respective residents but also the Central Virginia region as a whole.”
“At the end of the day, our goal is to work collaboratively and cooperatively to improve the quality of life for all our residents, and having a dedicated funding source and body to improve not only our respective neighborhoods and localities but also the transportation network of how we get from one part of our region to the other will make a huge difference in that quality of life.”
How quickly the CVTA’s work will produce results remains to be seen, but Thornton called the authority’s existence an ambitious task.
“With creation of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, the Richmond region can now shape our own future with respect to mobility,” Thornton said. “This is a very big and bold undertaking. Therefore, it is very important to establish this organization with a very sound footing and with the spirit of collegiality and regional cooperation. I am confident that we will be successful and do great things for our residents of Henrico County, as well as throughout the entire region with the help of this authority.”
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