NVTA official Keith Jasper speaks in front of a packed house Wednesday evening at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center. (Erika Christ image)
Local politicians, officials from business and civic organizations, CEOs, longtime transportation advocates and everyday residents of the Richmond Highway area filled a room at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center on Wednesday night and insisted that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) fund several Richmond Highway corridor transportation projects in its next six-year plan (FY 2018-2023).
“There hasn’t been a penny of state or regional money spent down here. It’s being spent in Loudoun, Dulles, Tysons — places that have more political and economic power, more media attention,” said State Sen. Scott Surovell. “We need it. It’s our turn,” he asserted to applause.
Earlier, the NVTA’s principal for Transportation Planning and Programming, Keith Jasper, briefed the crowd about the organization and how it goes about prioritizing and funding regional transportation projects. Sixty regional projects throughout Northern Virginia are vying for the approximately $1.285 billion that NVTA has available. As of right now, based on NVTA’s summary of quantitative and qualitative evaluations, the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit project is ranked 23rd out of the 60 projects, while the Route 1 road widening project between Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and Napper Road ranks 24th. A third project — the Route 1/CSX underpass widening in Lorton — falls 34th on the list.
Jasper — who whipped out his camera phone at one point to document the crowd in attendance — said that public comments are an important factor in deciding whether projects move up or down the list in precedence.
“We can’t afford to be downgraded on the list,” said Surovell, pointing out that none of the NVTA decision makers live along the corridor. “It’s very important to let them know we want high-quality transit.”
While some attendees spoke out on behalf of specific projects — like Dale Rumberger, president of the South County Federation who advocated for the CSX underpass widening — others made the case for better transportation in general along the corridor. Donald Brideau, M.D., CEO of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, explained how community growth is vital for hospital growth and financial sustainability.
“We need better transportation; it will potentially affect the health of our community,” said Brideau.
According to Jasper, the most effective way for residents to submit comments about transportation funding is by electronic communications — either by sending an email to SYPcomment@thenovaauthority.org or by submitting a comment via the website. Comments may also be postal mailed to 3040 Williams Drive, Suite 200, Fairfax, VA. All submissions must be received by midnight on May 20. The NVTA then will decide which projects to fund and adopt its six-year plan on June 14.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck promised to share more talking points for people to use in their written comments. He urged everyone in the Richmond Highway area to take action and to encourage others to do so as well.
“We are literally on the bubble, and every single email or letter you send could make a difference,” he said.