Virginia adopts multimodal, competitive project scoring process

By Eric Sundquist

Last year Virginia enacted legislation to select state-supported transportation projects through a multimodal, competitive process. State-of-good-repair projects, such as bridge and pavement rehabilitation, as well as highway safety projects, were exempt. But a wide range of other projects, including road, transit and bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure; operations improvements; and transportation demand management, will be scored together.

The law prescribed five areas to be considered in the scoring, along with project cost: congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, environmental quality and land use. The relative weights of those elements, and details of how to assess project benefits in those categories, were left to the rulemaking process, which concluded June 17.

As the Commonwealth Transportation Board developed the rule, stakeholders expressed particular interest in weighting congestion. A preliminary proposal gave congestion 35 percent of the total weight in the most populated areas. The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a transportation advocacy group with strong ties to the infrastructure construction industry, wanted more weight on congestion, while a prominent smart growth blog, Greater Greater Washington, argued for less. The final rule gave congestion 45 percent of the weight. (Other weights: 10 percent for economic development, 10 percent for accessibility, 10 percent for environment and 15 percent for land use. Details, including weights for less-populous regions and scoring methods, may be found here.)

Scoring methods for the five criteria may have generated less stakeholder concern than the weights, but they will be of perhaps greater interest to leaders and staff at DOTs wrestling with project selection reform—and perhaps staff at FHWA developing MAP-21 performance measures. Congestion, for example, will not simply be measured as auto traveler delay as compared to free flow—the familiar Texas A&M Transportation Institute method—but in two ways: 1) person-hours of delay with speed limits as the base case, 2) person throughput. By this method adding transit, increasing carpooling or improving sidewalks could all potentially score well in the congestion category.

Another notable scoring element is land use, described as “transportation-efficient land use patterns,” which could eventually spur localities to avoid the kind of low-density, use-segregated zoning that generates extra traffic, congestion and DOT costs.

Proposed projects will be scored beginning Oct. 1, with evaluations released in January and program adoption later in 2016.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.