As the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority works to update its long-term plan for the region, new Loudoun projects in a draft mark a shift away from building just roads and toward green, multimodal transport.
The authority, which funds tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation projects each year, makes two major planning documents: the six-year plan, the funding plan for those projects, and TransAction, a long-term plan where projects typically must appear to be considered for funding in the six-year plan. TransAction is also more of a wish list—the authority acknowledges it contains more projects than could realistically be funded, with more than 400 in the latest draft.
The new plan also reflects some changes in NVTA planning since the last update in 2017. That includes seeing an increase in teleworking; a new effort to address climate change, sustainability, and equity concerns; and the new Transportation Technology Strategic Plan, an effort to apply new technology to addressing the region’s congestion.
Among the 112 projects added to the draft TransAction plan, nine are in Loudoun, with some other region-wide plans also encompassing Loudoun. And of those Loudoun projects, only three are road projects. They include Intelligent Transportation System technology such as cameras, traffic sensors, weather stations and dynamic signs on Rt. 7; intersection improvements on Rt. 7 between Rt. 28 and the Fairfax Line, which also includes building bike and pedestrian paths; and the North Collector Road, a four-lane road between Rt. 50 and Tall Cedars Parkway to the Air and Space Museum Parkway Interchange at Rt. 28 in Fairfax County.
The rest deal in ways to get around that aren’t cars—from improvements across the W&OD Trail and sidewalks connecting many of the major developments in eastern Loudoun, to real-time information signs at park-and-ride lots and bus stops, to new transit options connecting Dulles Town Center to Tysons and Leesburg to Metro’s Loudoun Gateway Station. Regionwide initiatives include things like charging infrastructure for electric buses, cars and heavy trucks and on-demand micro-transit service to get to high-capacity transit stops.
That marks a change from the Loudoun projects in the current version of the plan, which are heavily geared toward road and intersection construction.
“One of our primary objectives is congestion relief, and so not only making cars have a smoother ride on the road, but getting people off the road is a priority,” said state Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33), who serves on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority board. “So some of these infrastructure kinds of things, like the bus rapid transit and some of the smart technologies, are a big part of that. And we’re really trying to look out of the box, instead of saying ‘more pavement’ all the time.”
She said the authority’s plans also move toward fruition of plans that have been around for years.
“Fifteen years ago when I worked the county level as a staffer, we were starting to do interjurisdictional planning for how we would get people to and from the Metro stations, where we would put the housing, with pedestrian, bike, as well as bus and car transportation—it’s exciting to see that we’re actually putting some of those together,” she said.
One longtime major wish list item, as of the latest TransAction draft, remains in the plan—the Outer Potomac River Crossing, a bridge connecting Loudoun to Montgomery County, MD. The plan describes it as a roadway crossing the Potomac River from east of Goose Creek. When the current version of TransAction was released in 2017, that was planned to connect Rt. 28 in Loudoun in I-270 in Maryland. At that time, then-Del. Randy Minchew, who served on the authority at that time, said that bridge could also open the door to federal funding for an interstate in Loudoun, with Rt. 28 already built to interstate standards.
The plan also still includes another new crossing, the Eastern Potomac River Crossing connecting I-95 in Virginia to Rt. 301 in Maryland.
But those plans are unlikely to move forward soon, with Maryland officials historically opposed to a new crossing. Boysko said she is hopeful to speak to a new set of elected officials in Maryland.
“First, we’ve got to be on the same page with Maryland, and then secondly I think we’ve got to give our local communities who would be impacted some assurance that they’re not going to be terribly adversely impacted,” she said. “… That is prime real estate, and of course the people who have chosen to live there have valid concerns.”
The new TransAction draft is expected to be adopted in December.
The current Fiscal Year 2022-2027 Six Year Program plan includes $624 million for funding for projects across Northern Virginia. In Loudoun, that includes more than $73 million for four projects, including the Intelligent Transportation System technology on Rt. 7, improvements on Rt. 7 between Rt. 9 and the Dulles Greenway, widening Ryan Road between Evergreen Mills Road and Beaverdam Drive, and an interchange at Loudoun County Parkway and Rt. 50.
Loudoun County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who also chairs the NVTA, has not yet responded to a request for an interview Monday.