RD28 - Department of Rail and Public Transportation Fiscal Year 2020 Report

Executive Summary:

Virginia Code § 33.2-106 directs the Secretary of Transportation to submit an annual report to the General Assembly “on actions taken by the Commonwealth, local governments, and regional transportation authorities to (i) increase transit use and (ii) reduce highway congestion and use of single occupant vehicles through programs and initiatives involving transportation demand management, transit use, telecommuting, carpooling, construction of commuter parking facilities, use of flexible work hours, and telecommunications technology."

Additionally, Item 1, Subsection O, of Chapter 1289 of the 2020 Virginia Acts of Assembly directs the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability (JCTA) to “regularly review, and provide oversight of the usage of funding generated pursuant to the provisions of House Bill 2313, 2013 Session of the General Assembly." This section also requires preparation of a report on the uses of the Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Funds (IPROC) to be submitted to the JCTA annually.

This report combines these two reports in one Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) annual report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020.(*1) Because DRPT not only manages grant programs for transit and passenger rail, but also provides grant funding to the nine shortline and two Class I freight railroads that operate in the Commonwealth, the FY 2020 DRPT Annual Report also highlights freight rail initiatives. The 2020 General Assembly, in Chapter 1230, restructured transportation funding with the creation of the Commonwealth Transportation Fund (CTF), into which all transportation revenues are deposited. In addition to streamlining reporting to the General Assembly, this report also reflects the creation of this Fund and the resulting consolidation of the Rail Enhancement Fund and IPROC into the Commonwealth Rail Fund within the CTF.

As reflected in this report, FY 2020 was a unique time for transportation in Virginia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the majority of this report focuses on the yearly activities that occurred, a section was added to highlight the role and importance of transportation during the COVID-19 health crisis. Throughout, DRPT worked closely with its partners to protect the health and safety of its employees and customers as it also distributed state and federal funding to assist during these difficult times. DRPT is a state agency with a focus on the movement of people and goods with primary areas of activity in rail, public transportation, and commuter services. DRPT works with local, regional, state, and federal government, as well as private entities, to provide support for projects and programs. In FY 2020, DRPT administered more than $700 million to freight and passenger rail programs and projects, public transportation agencies, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency (WMATA), and TDM programs.

To administer this funding, DRPT oversaw both state and federal funds for distribution to its partners. IPROC supports the cost of operating intercity passenger rail services as well as acquiring, leasing, or improving railways or railroad equipment. The REF provides for the retention, maintenance, improvement, and development of freight and passenger railways. The Shortline Railway Preservation and Development Fund is a grant program targeted to state-of-good-repair and capacity improvement projects on the shortline railroad network. The Rail Industrial Access Fund (RIA) provides funding for rail access to industrial sites for economic development purposes. This program supports economic development on shortline and Class 1 railroads by offering grant funding to build or rehabilitate rail spurs. Lastly, the Commonwealth Mass Transit Fund provides dollars for public transportation capital expenditures, operating assistance, and TDM programs and projects. This fund comprises the largest share of DRPT’s FY 2020 Six-Year Improvement Program.

DRPT’s rail and public transportation stakeholders serve citizens throughout the Commonwealth and include 41 transit systems, 60 human service operators, a commuter rail provider, 16 transportation demand management agencies, 15 metropolitan planning organizations, nine shortline railroads, two Class I freight railroads, an intercity passenger rail operator, and a DRPT-supported intercity bus operator.

With its partners, DRPT provides benefits to all Virginians by improving accessibility and mobility options, relieving congestion, removing single-occupant vehicles from the highways, reducing the number of trucks by transporting goods via rail, and providing transportation services to those most in need. (See image on numbered page 3)

In addition, DRPT and its grantees provide other significant benefits to the Commonwealth, including economic, safety, and environmental. Transit generates $3.4 billion in gross state product and rail generates $30 billion. Rail services also prevent 3,000 crashes on Virginia’s highways each year, and freight rail generates 75 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than vehicle travel. In March 2020, Governor Northam declared a state of emergency, and DRPT immediately worked with its partners to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amtrak and many transit agencies reduced service, while some stopped service completely. Additionally, the Virginia Breeze, Virginia’s intercity bus service, suspended its Valley Flyer route in early April. The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) allocated an additional $11 million in operating assistance to aid transit agencies during this period. DRPT assisted in distributing approximately $99 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. The CARES Act also authorized more than $1 billion to Amtrak for intercity passenger rail operations across the United States.

While continuing to operate during the pandemic, transit agencies had to modify service. This includes: i) limiting physical interactions by suspending fare collections and allowing rear-door boarding only; ii) heightening sanitation and precautions, including distributing masks to employees and riders; and iii) tailoring operations by reducing and enhancing service on an as-need basis.

DRPT’s most significant initiative for FY 2020 was Transforming Rail in Virginia. On December 19, 2019, Governor Northam and CSX announced a $3.7 billion landmark deal that includes the purchase of more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track. The Commonwealth will fund two-thirds of this project with state and local revenues. Amtrak plans to contribute approximately $944 million over ten years for the project. (See image on numbered page 4)

In addition to the Transforming Rail in Virginia project, DRPT is financing other projects benefiting passenger rail in the Commonwealth. (See image on numbered page 5)

During FY 2020, DRPT continued to work with the WMATA on bringing it “Back2Good." The 2018 General Assembly passed legislation providing approximately $154.5 million in annual dedicated funding for the WMATA Capital Fund, Virginia’s proportional regional share of $500 million in annual additional capital for critical state of good repair needs. The Maryland General Assembly and the District of Columbia City Council followed Virginia’s lead by passing their own funding packages later in 2018. FY 2020 was the second year that WMATA received funding from Virginia through this dedicated revenue stream, and the Commonwealth is seeing the benefits of these additional funds. In the summers of 2019 and 2020, WMATA implemented its platform improvement project along the Metrorail Blue, Orange, and Yellow lines in Virginia. Throughout the entire system, WMATA had forty-five outdoor stations with concrete platforms that were exposed to weather and de-icing agents for 35 to 40 years and were at the end of their useful lives. Twenty stations had platforms requiring immediate attention, and WMATA had installed temporary measures at those stations to stabilize and ensure safety until reconstruction could occur.

The 2018 General Assembly also provided additional state oversight of WMATA. (See image on numbered page 5)

While also working with WMATA, DRPT is providing transparency to transit and TDM funding. Chapters 854 and 856 of the 2018 Acts of Assembly created new reforms regarding DRPT’s statewide public transportation grant programs. In order to implement these reforms, DRPT created the Making Efficient, Responsible Investments in Transit (MERIT) program with the following components:

• Statewide transit capital prioritization
• Statewide performance-based transit operating assistance
• Urban transit strategic plans

Additionally, SMART SCALE provides transportation funding through a prioritization process that evaluates projects based on improvements to safety, congestion, accessibility, land use, economic development, and the environment. DRPT, VDOT, and the Office of Intermodal Planning Investment oversee the development and implementation of the SMART SCALE process, with oversight by the CTB. As of August 2020, DRPT received 85 applications with transit as a component during the current round of SMART SCALE. Transit was cited as a primary component in eight of those projects and a secondary component in 77 projects.

DPRT and its partners are also reducing single-occupant vehicle travel on highways. The I-395 Express Lanes, I-66 Inside the Beltway High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes, and I-66 Outside the Beltway Express Lanes projects will result in major improvements to person throughput in these corridors. Toll revenues are used for both highway and multimodal projects that will aid transportation network users. These enhanced services will provide low-cost and reliable travel options to commuters, remove cars from congested roadways, and help optimize the transportation network by moving more people. (See image on numbered page 6)

Intercity bus service connects two or more urban areas not in close proximity and operates on a regularly scheduled, fixed-route service. It is available to the general public with the capability of carrying baggage while providing meaningful access to the national intercity bus network. The goal of intercity bus service is to connect underserved communities, such as households without vehicles, students, the elderly, and the disabled to interregional bus, rail, and air travel. Currently, DRPT provides services along three routes operating under the Virginia Breeze title, the Valley Flyer – operating from Blacksburg to Washington, D.C., the Piedmont Express – operating from Danville to D.C., and the Capital Connector – operating from Martinsville to Richmond and then on to D.C. (See image on numbered page 7)

Transportation demand management also plays a significant role in increasing throughput on Virginia’s major highways. Telework!VA was launched in 2001 by DRPT for the purpose of reducing traffic congestion by encouraging and assisting businesses with the development and implementation of telework programs. Similarly, vanpools are owned and operated by private entities with commuter volunteer drivers. The full cost of vanpool operations are paid for by the riders. Public funds are only used to help start a vanpool, to assist a vanpool when it loses riders, and to provide a monthly stipend to collect operating data from the private vanpool company.

DPRT is integrating technology into transit and TDM as public transit is rapidly transforming due to the emergence of innovative technologies and services. New alternative transportation services continue to evolve, providing travelers with greater convenience in requesting, tracking, and paying for trips. Data is used to analyze how people move in and around our communities; and the advancement of technologies such as electric buses, driver assistance systems, and autonomous vehicles is giving transit agencies the ability to provide cleaner, safer, and more cost-efficient service and additional mobility options. The emergence of these services and technologies is drastically changing the mobility landscape.

In addition to advancing commuter and passenger benefits throughout the Commonwealth, DRPT and its partners are also removing trucks from major highways by strengthening its freight rail network. Through the REF, Virginia is financing projects that benefit the Port of Virginia as well as the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroad networks. Additionally, the Shortline Railway Preservation Fund is providing funding for projects within the Commonwealth’s shortline network. (See image on numbered page 8)

Through the RIA Fund, DRPT works with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and local economic development departments to award funding to industrial sites for economic development purposes and to ensure that companies are aware of the RIA program as a potential incentive to locate or expand operations. In FY 2019 and 2020, DRPT awarded funding for four projects.

DRPT is the state agency responsible for distributing federal and state funding allocations to enhance human service transportation providers. The purpose of this program is to improve mobility for seniors and individuals with disabilities by removing barriers to transportation services and expanding the transportation options. The program provides funding for the following: i) accessible vehicles for public agencies and private non-profit agencies that are transporting seniors or individuals with disabilities; and ii) operating expenditures to enhance paratransit beyond the minimum requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes expansion of service hours, days, and areas, alternatives to public transportation, and voucher programs.

DRPT also provides oversight of public transportation safety and is the designated Rail State Safety Oversight Agency (SSOA) for the Commonwealth. The SSOA’s core mission is to continuously verify that a rail transit agency is executing the documented programs in place to ensure the safety of its passengers and employees. The rail fixed guideway system DRPT oversees is the Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) Tide light rail system in Norfolk.

In FY 2020, DRPT completed the first Statewide Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) for Tier II Small Public Transportation Providers in the Commonwealth. The plan was developed in collaboration with 15 small transit agencies and included extensive outreach and field visits to each agency.(*9) The Tier II PTASP was completed in July 2020 and met the originally scheduled compliance deadline established by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

DRPT leads the Commonwealth in promoting rail, transit, and TDM. These promotions are designed to raise awareness and encourage the use of commuting options such as transit, biking, and telework. DRPT accomplishes this through its Celebrate Transportation Day, Telework Week, and Try Transit Week campaigns. In addition to these efforts, DRPT also oversees marketing efforts for the Amtrak state-sponsored and Virginia Breeze intercity bus services.

DRPT also is looking ahead to 2021 and beyond. The 2020 General Assembly made tremendous strides by passing the Governor’s Omnibus transportation bill, which transformed transportation funding as well as creating the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority and the Transit Ridership Incentive Program. The General Assembly also passed legislation creating the Central Virginia Transportation Authority and the Hampton Roads Transit Regional Transit Program.

In addition to increased revenues for transit and rail, the Omnibus transportation bill also streamlines all transportation funding through the Commonwealth Transportation Fund. All these revenues are then distributed to the Commonwealth Mass Transit Fund and the Commonwealth Rail Fund via the Transportation Trust Fund. These changes reflect a financial commitment to Virginia’s multimodal transportation system. (See image on numbered page 9)

In 2021, working closely with the Secretary’s Office, responding to COVID-19 will continue to be of utmost importance. Throughout the pandemic, DRPT has been analyzing the state of rail, transit, and TDM in a post-pandemic world.

Possible scenarios and their impact on these modes include: (See image on numbered page 10)

Despite the negative impact of COVID-19 on transit, transportation demand management, and rail, the future outlook for these modes in the Commonwealth is still positive. With leadership from DRPT and from across the Transportation Secretariat, there have been exciting advancements in 2020. DRPT looks forward to continuing this momentum for years to come.
(*1) All data in this report is generated by DRPT unless otherwise noted. Additional information is available at the DRPT website.
(*9) These 15 agencies are BRITE, Bristol Transit, Charlottesville Area Transit, Fredericksburg Regional Transit, Greater Lynchburg Transit Company, Greater Roanoke Transit Company, City of Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation, JAUNT, District Three/Mountain Lynx Transit, Petersburg Area Transit, Radford Transit, Suffolk Transit, Williamsburg Area Transit Authority, and Winchester Transit.