March 09, 2010

The budget/BRAC bonanza...

Last night's Alexandria Transportation Commission meeting can be summed up in two words: budget, and BRAC.

The budget was the main topic of discussion for most of the meeting, focused on an update from city staff on the city manager's proposed Capital Improvement Program budget for FY 2011 thru FY 2020. In a nutshell, it doesn't look very good. As currently proposed, there is no money for DASH system expansion, the DASH bike racks won't happen until FY 2018, and due to VDOT cutting Urban System funding, very little in the way of street reconstruction outside of already-programmed projects (mainly just the Eisenhower Ave Complete Streets project and the King/Beauregard intersection).

One odd comment is that FY 2011 is the "last year" for CMAQ funds. Which is odd since that is a FHWA funding category, albeit subject to the ongoing debate over the Federal transportation reauthorization. Either way, this ball is in Congress's court.

A clarification on the TIGER grant: previously overlooked by some, there's $670K for capital improvements in the Van Dorn St corridor, previously identified by the city as a priority corridor for improving transit. Also, the $8.5 million for the Potomac Yard transitway, combined with $4 million in previously-secured Federal money, will only build the transitway between Monroe Ave and E. Glebe Rd. It's presumed that south of Monroe Ave (to the Braddock Rd Metro station) will run in mixed traffic, but the city is still searching for the roughly $16 million it will take to get the transitway up to Four Mile Run. One option being discussed is requesting a proffer from the Potomac Yard developer.

Not all hope is lost, however. One of the remaining remnants of the General Assembly's attempts at transportation funding a few years ago (before most of it was struck down in the courts....remember the $2000 speeding tickets for out-of-state drivers?) is an option for the city. Northern Virginia (and Hampton Roads) localities are allowed to levy up to 12.5 cents per $100 of value on non-residential commercial/industrial real estate, which can then be used for transportation purposes.

Some caveats, though. If it's residential property (to include apartment buildings), it cannot be taxed this way. The money MUST be used for transportation, and new transportation capital projects in particular (though operating expenses related to that new capital is also covered), and cannot be used for existing transportation expenses (so the city can't use this levy to substitute for existing DASH funding).

Arlington adopted it at the full 12.5 cents, while Fairfax County adopted it at a 11.5 cent level. Prince William County is apparently considering it.

Though the city hasn't announced what level it will proposed (it must announce a "max rate" by Saturday, though), preliminary indications are that it will propose a 3 cent level. The current proposal would use this money to expand the DASH bus fleet (3 new buses in FY11 and a fourth in FY12), purchase and operate an additional trolley for the King St Trolley service (to reduce headways), install bicycle wayfinding signage, and finally add bike racks to the DASH fleet (instead of waiting until FY18 as the proposed CIP budget does).

The other main topic was BRAC, namely the proposed interchange improvements at Seminary Road to service BRAC-133 at Mark Center. The city received a letter from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who again asked the city to support a modification of Alt D (mostly Alt D with a few elements of Alt E added). Of course, the city is opposed to both Alt D and Alt E due to its impacts on the Winkler Preserve, and the mayor fired off a return letter to the county.

Meanwhile, the BRAC Advisory Group is recommending that BOTH Alt A1 (which the city favors) and Alt D (which Fairfax County favors, as noted above and previously) be dropped, and instead is leaning towards an odd option. A map of it isn't online yet, but here's the option in a nutshell:

- The current Seminary Rd overpass over the interchange would be removed, and Seminary Rd through traffic would go through the interchange. To mitigate this, the revised Seminary Rd would be expanded to allow for 3 through lanes in each direction.

- Replacing that top level would be a new HOV (or HO/T if that ever happens) ramp, connecting between the HOV lanes to/from the south and Seminary Rd to/from the north. This effectively provides the direct HOV lane access to the area without impacting the Winkler Preserve.

- Direct access to/from the BRAC parking garage via the southbound 395 ramp remains as an option.

- Where the revised Seminary Rd meets the I-395 ramps could either remain as the quad-set of signalized intersections that currently exists, or could be replaced by a large traffic circle.

VDOT has also released some new documentation on the interchange proposal, to which city staff feel they "missed the boat" by failing to mention impacts to the Winkler Preserve.

VDOT plans a public meeting on the interchange and their new documentation this Thursday (3/11) at Minnie Howard, while the city is planning another community meeting on April 10th at Landmark Mall.

No comments: