N. Va. officials concerned over proposal that would consolidate the region's 3 major transit agencies
If it's not broken then don't fix it. That's the attitude some Northern Virginia transit officials have toward a bill that proposes to merge three major transit agencies into one come July 2012.
Del. Dave Albo (R-Fairfax) filed a bill last week that calls for the consolidation of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. The NVTA would be expanded and absorb the responsibilities of the other two agencies.
"There are just too many cooks in the kitchen so what this bill attempts to do is make one organization responsible for transportation," Albo said. "To me the most important thing is you would have one place to go to get something done."
Albo said the bill follows a recommendation made from the governor's restructuring and reform committee. By collapsing three organizations into one, Albo said, it will save money and be more effective.
Those close to the issue, however, think otherwise.
"Why break something that is working well," NVTC Public Outreach Director Kala Quintana said. "This is something that may look good on paper by someone who doesn't have a fundamental knowledge of how we all work...but these are very different" agencies.
NVTC coordinates transit services throughout Northern Virginia including Metro, Virginia Railway Express and various bus systems, while PRTC is responsible for operating the bus system in Prince William County. NVTA serves as a transportation planning group, transit officials said.
Quintana said members from all three groups met with Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton last year when the proposal was first presented. He, however, reassured them this was not a "huge priority" so it came as a surprise when it resurfaced.
Connaughton could not be reached for comment.
"We didn't hear anything for awhile and we permitted ourselves to believe that would be the end of it; but turned out it was not," PRTC Director Al Harf said. "There is already a long and proud history of collaboration among these agencies and this is a concern."
Transit officials said the three agencies have very different missions and responsibilities. All the work will still need to be completed, so it is unlikely any money will be saved.
"How operating agencies would tie into a planning agency is not clear to us," Prince William Supervisor and Martin E. Nohe, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and NVTA chairman. "It is a concern that those who are pushing the idea to merge have not articulated how to accomplish the efficiencies they are looking for."
Nohe said it's unclear what would be gained from a merger. What would be lost, he said, is the jurisdictional autonomy of the groups, which are each comprised of members from the various Northern Virginia localities.
Because of the makeup of the groups, Harf said he is concerned this is "a recipe for quorum problems." Right now, for example, Stafford County officials are involved in PRTC but not NVTC. Those representatives may not feel compelled to attend a meeting if it is mainly addressing Metro--something they don't have a stake in.
Quintana said legal issues also would have to be addressed. Each group has different transportation equipment, property and debt finance obligations, she said.
Albo said he recognizes some of the criticisms of the bill, including having people vote on something they have no vested interest in. But, with some work, he said he thinks it is the right solution.
Several jurisdictions, including Fairfax, Stafford and Prince William counties, are expected to send letters to the governor expressing their concerns with the proposal within the upcoming week.
| January 21, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, State Senate, Transportation
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