PHOTO: Traffic on I-95 (copy)

Traffic on southbound Interstate-95 near U.S. 17 in Stafford County inches past ongoing construction on the Express Lanes extension.

In November, the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee passed a resolution asking the commonwealth to move the region from its current grouping in Category A, which includes Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, to another category with smaller urban centers. The hope is that such a move will make the Fredericksburg region more competitive when the next round of Smart Scale funding is divvied up.

The problem that such a move is trying to fix is that Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads both have General Assembly-approved taxing districts, which allow them to raise more local dollars for transportation projects. Under the current funding system, the more money a locality raises itself, the better its prospects of obtaining additional Smart Scale funds. The idea is to get buy-in from local officials on transportation projects that will benefit their own constituents.

However, in practice this system puts smaller jurisdictions with lower tax bases at a disadvantage. And in the case of the Fredericksburg region, which is expected to come up with funding for Interstate-95 projects that benefit the entire state in addition to its own local roads, that disadvantage is pronounced.

For example, Smart Scale rejected FAMPO’S $34.3 million proposal to widen southbound I-95 from three lanes to four lanes between Exits 130 (State Route 3) and 126 (Massaponax), where traffic will inevitably bottleneck after the Southbound Rappahannock River Bridge Crossing project approved in Round One is completed—even though starting in 2023, this area is expected to become one of the worst chokepoints in the commonwealth.

Since the Fredericksburg region does not have the legislature’s approval to set up a local transportation authority to raise what Policy Committee Chairman Matt Kelly called “leveraged funding,” its Smart Scale scores are lower than its larger Category A competitors. Moving the region to Category B—which includes Charlottesville, Richmond and Roanoke—would help level the playing field.

An analysis by the University of Mary Washington and FAMPO determined that Fredericksburg is likely to come out ahead during Round 4 of Smart Scale, which begins next March, if it is moved to Category B. In fact, if the region had already been in the more appropriate Category B, the study found, 19 out of 21 FAMPO projects would have gotten better scores in Round Three, including three critical Interstate-95 projects, with just six projects receiving worse scores and two remaining unchanged.

And according to former FAMPO administrator Paul Agnello, a proposed project to build a new commuter lot and make improvements along U.S. 17 in Stafford would likely have been funded if the region had been in Category B from the get-go.

State transportation officials have long admitted that the Fredericksburg region is something of an outlier when it comes to Smart Scale scoring. But seeing as they are loathe to tinker with the funding formula to make funding decisions more fair, moving the region to Category B is the least they can do.

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The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star

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