POWHATAN – Regional leaders in transportation planning came together last week for the eighth annual Richmond Region Transportation Forum to discuss forward movement being made in the participating localities.
Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RRTPO) hosted the forum, which was held Nov. 4 at Independence Golf Course in Powhatan, and brought together representatives from around the region. In addition to RRTPO, representatives from PlanRVA and Central Virginia Transportation Authority (CVTA) were invited to share what the organizations have accomplished so far, current initiatives and what the future may hold.
The nine localities that make up the region are Powhatan, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, Chesterfield, Charles City and New Kent counties, as well as the Town of Ashland and the City of Richmond.
RRTPO chair and Powhatan supervisor David Williams said he hoped the forum would help spread the word about how these three organizations, which have many overlapping members, are excited about what is going on in transportation in the region and how they are working together to plan and fund transportation projects that previously weren’t possible.
“Having the forum was well worthwhile because it is discussing where we need to go. This is not something that gets put up on the shelf; it is a dynamic process that is going on right now where we are evolving. From that standpoint it is still good to be discussing this. We are gaining a better understanding every meeting,” Williams said.
He said the importance of acting like a region and how that benefits everyone involved was well articulated during one of the panels by Carlos Brown, senior vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer for Dominion Energy and Richmond District representative for the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
“It is a growing process. It doesn’t happen overnight. But (Brown) got into that,” Williams said, “and then he got into reiterating the need we had to create the authority to facilitate the regional benefit of acting and performing like a region and being able to attract the economic development, the things we want as a region, which is a benefit to everybody.”
The forum also shined a spotlight on how the CVTA funds are benefiting the nine localities in Planning District 15, both for their individual goals and the regional projects that have a collaborative benefit, he said. Moving forward, having CVTA funds should give the region a competitive advantage when it is going up against other localities with more resources for funding such as SMART Scale.
The monies in the Central Virginia Transportation Fund come from two tax levies – an additional 0.7% on sales and use taxes and 2.1% on the wholesale gas tax. Each participating locality receives 50% of the funds collected within its borders to be used to fund local transportation projects. Another 35% will be disbursed by the 16-member CVTA governing board and the remaining 15% goes to the Greater Richmond Transit Company.
One of three panel discussions held at the forum focused on the first project the CVTA governing board will focus on with its funding, the Fall Line Trail system, said Chet Parsons, director of transportation for PlanRVA. The Fall Line trail courses through seven localities – Ashland, Hanover, Henrico, Richmond, Chesterfield, Colonial Heights and Petersburg – and five of those are within the planning district.
“It is an urban corridor. It is a rural corridor. It kind of hits all of those marks,” Parsons said.
Named for its unique geography along the trail corridor, the Fall Line denotes the area where the Piedmont plateau and Atlantic Coastal Plain meet, resulting in a number of rapids and waterfalls. The Fall Line trail came together as an opportunity to “connect the dots” of active transportation networks taking shape in the greater Richmond region. Several sections of the trail already existed or were planned in localities’ comprehensive and special area plans. A natural corridor for a long-distance trail began to emerge that would provide opportunities for active transportation, recreation and economic development.
Williams pointed out that since the trail only goes through five of the planning district’s nine localities, the remaining four, including Powhatan, will receive additional consideration for CVTA funding for projects they propose.
“So that is a huge boon for Powhatan County,” he said.
The forum was rounded out by looking to the future. The RRTPO finished the most recent update to its long-range transportation plan in October, Parsons said. Building on the adoption of that plan, the organizations want to think about a concept called scenario planning, which involves considering future influences that might impact decision making in the region.
“When I say future influences, I am thinking about things like housing choices, density of development, where employers locate, environmental issues like sea level rise or other climate change, or land use,” Parsons said. “All of those things actually impact each other and scenario planning is a tool. It is a computer model and format to test how all those things could impact each other and then change the way decisions are made.”
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.