Loudoun’s schedule for major construction projects like intersections and new schools is headed to the Board of Supervisors for a vote. While the $2.1 billion six-year plan has little wiggle room, county leaders are looking to speed work on a countywide trail system.
The board’s finance committee on March 4 discussed changes that could be made to the county’s Capital Improvement Program, but with the county government already planning to issue close to its debt limit each year in the six-year plan, there is little capacity in the finances for moving projects up in the schedule.
Those projects are funded in large part through debt financing by issuing bonds to be paid off over time, with additional funding from regional, state and federal assistance, proffers, other fees, and in the form of immediate payments from local tax revenues.
County budget and capital staff members have also spent the past several months revising estimates of how much projects are expected to cost—often upwards.
“This actually has been I think a more restrained and constrained CIP process than I think we’ve ever had, with no changes because there really hasn’t been much that we could do in light of the re-estimations that have happened,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
And, he said, funding projects sooner won’t necessarily get them done more quickly.
“What we’ve been learning through staff’s efforts over the last six to 12 months to try to scope out projects more—accurately, we’ll say—is that in most cases accelerating funding does not accelerate the project,” Letourneau said.
One project, however, has been accelerated: plans for a linear parks and trails system spanning the county, known as Emerald Ribbons. Plans call for an interconnected tracery of bike, foot, and equestrian trails following the paths of waterways and the existing W&OD Trail, including to Loudoun’s future state park at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship in Neersville.
A $350,000 to develop a framework for Emerald Ribbons was taken out of the capital budget entirely and moved to year-end fund balance discussions. It was to receive funding in Fiscal Year 2022, which begins July 2021. Instead, that money will likely be taken from leftover funding from the county’s Fiscal Year 2020 year-end surplus.
When finished, that framework will include a feasibility study, priorities areas for trails, conceptual designs, and potential routes and trailheads, as well as a forecast of the costs of construction and maintenance.
Some projects have been added to the capital budget, however.
One would add to a federally funded project to extend public water to homes in Broad Run Farms, which are affected by groundwater pollution stemming from the Hidden Lane landfill, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. The federal funding would connect 142 homes; the county would spend $9.8 million to add the other 311 properties. That work is planned to finish by summer of 2021.
And another project to widen eastbound Rt. 7 from Loudoun County Parkway to Rt. 28 has been added, with construction likely sometime after 2026.
The county also has plans to build a backup Emergency Communications Center, expand the Adult Detention Center, and build a new public library in Purcellville.
The budget plans for $2.1 billion in spending for county government projects, including $1.2 billion in transportation projects alone over six years. The schools side of the capital budget totals $805.4 million.
And with Loudoun working aggressively to address traffic congestion and so many large projects on the horizon, Letourneau suggested the county may need to start planning for major projects further out than the capital budget’s six-year horizon. He compared that to the school system’s projections for when it will need new schools, which extends to the 20-year horizon of the county’s general plan.
“We have a lot of what they would call mega-projects—there’s some on Rt. 7, there’s certainly some on Rt. 50 that I’ve been waiting a long time for—interchanges, and those kinds of things,” Letourneau said. “They’re really big ticket items, in some cases as much as a half-billion dollar item, so first I think the county needs to sort of get organized on those and figure out exactly what we have, and what high-level cost projections are.”
He said the county would also need to meet on those with the Virginia Department of Transportation: “It is just not reasonable or feasible to expect the county to be funding these types of major projects, that have huge regional improvements, by ourselves.”
The full Board of Supervisors will take up the capital budget on March 16.