SJR 121

Joint Subcommittee Studying Creation of a Northern Virginia Regional Transportation Authority

November 8, 2000, Annandale

Transportation Authorities in Other States

The subcommittee received a briefing on existing transportation authorities in other states that might be useful as models for a transportation authority for Northern Virginia. Several examples, most notably San Diego's, were cited and a number of lessons drawn that are important in the Northern Virginia context:

  • It takes time to bring revenues on line and work out a means of allocating those revenues that all authority stakeholders can support--at least three to five years.
  • It is vital to work at building a constituency to support the new authority (business organizations can often be very helpful in this effort).
  • Building a constituency must be treated by the authority itself like a political campaign, not as only an administrative operation.
  • The authority must have multi-modal responsibilities (in the Northern Virginia context, both highways and mass transit).
  • The authority needs to have a dedicated source of substantial revenue (most likely some form or either sales tax or income tax).
San Diego

In San Diego, the transportation authority is responsible for local streets, regionally significant highways, and mass transit. This allows the authority to serve three possibly non-overlapping constituencies, and make them all feel "included." A successful transportation authority must have a specific agenda or projects and programs and make sure the public is familiar with them. Failure to do this risks losing public confidence.


Atlanta's regional transit authority and regional commission are examples of an effort to bring about meaningful and effective coordination of transportation, land use, and air quality programs. Unfortunately, this situation was imposed on Atlanta when the metropolitan area failed to meet its federally mandated air quality targets.


In discussion following the report, Mr. Burton urged his colleagues to look seriously at the Atlanta experience, warning that the Washington metropolitan area could very find itself in the same air quality difficulties, and if it did, having more money to build more roads would be useless, because additional highway construction would be barred by the federal government. Other remarks included:

  • Mayor Mason suggested that Northern Virginia needs to address four transportation problems: (i) a lack of adequate financial resources, (ii) an excessively complicated regional transportation decision-making process, (iii) an unnecessarily complicated operational structure in transportation agencies that serve the region, and (iv) an inability to integrate policies affecting land use, transportation, and air quality.
  • Delegate McClure suggested that the panel defer consideration of issues involving land use and transportation maintenance and operation and concentrate, instead, on transportation planning and expanded financial resources.
  • Senator Mims suggested that it was highly unlikely that the 2001 Session would act favorably on any legislation providing increased funding for transportation or adjusting existing allocation formulas to benefit Northern Virginia. He suggested, instead, legislation that would provide statutory existence for an entity similar to the TCC and give it real decision-making powers.
  • Mr. Burton cautioned that none of these suggested changes would be workable unless and until a way could be found "around the federal Clean Air Act."
  • Senator Howell and Delegate McClure both thought it was important to take as much legislative action as possible during the 2001 Session of the legislature to keep the issue alive and to move forward wherever possible.

Next Meeting

The joint subcommittee will meet again on December 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the same location.

The Honorable Warren E. Barry, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold