By Janet Scheid
Scheid is chairman of the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization.
The March 10 Roanoke Times article “Roanoke County accepts $3 million grant to expand greenway through Explore Park” understates an important point about the award. While the grant money does contain some Virginia Department of Transportation funds (20% to be exact), the lion’s share of the revenue comes from the Federal Highway Administration, and is part of a broader funding administered by a regional board of local elected officials and operators of major transportation modes making decisions that benefit the entire Roanoke Valley: the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization.
Among its many duties, the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) oversees the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program, a pot of money over which it has complete decision-making power to fund projects that support mobility, sustainability, safety, congestion management, and economic development in the Roanoke region. Since 2013, more than $51 million in STBG funding has supported various transportation improvements including many greenways, Valley Metro bus replacements, and the Downtown Roanoke Multimodal Study, Exit 140 Park and Ride lot, and the Plantation Road Streetscape. These funds have also been used to leverage larger amounts of funding through the Commonwealth’s SMART SCALE process, the bi-annual funding process that supports major transportation projects across the state.
The clarification is important because, unlike efforts like SMART SCALE in which Roanoke Valley projects may be competing with projects across the state, including high-demand congestion management efforts in Northern Virginia, STBG projects are introduced by agencies, and decided upon by the local elected officials who make up the RVTPO board. In other words, STBG projects truly reflect local transportation priorities and needs.
The $3 million for the extension of the Roanoke River Greenway into Explore Park represents is one of many projects that will be funded by the RVTPO over the next five years. In fact, the organization expects to approve a total funding package of more than $34 million for fiscal years 2021-26 at its next meeting in April or May.
In addition to the STBG grant program, the RVTPO oversees a number of other urban planning efforts, including the approval of any Federal funds spent on transportation projects in the region, the regional Long Range Transportation Plan, and mode-specific plans like the Regional Bikeway Plan and Transit Vision Plan.
As a regional body, the RVTPO relies on citizen input to help guide its work. Its monthly meetings are open to the public, and it has currently deployed a survey providing citizens the opportunity to comment on the current round of proposed STBG projects. That survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/STBG2020.
The RVTPO is excited about the opportunity to support Roanoke County in this important Greenway project, and to support the entire Roanoke Valley in the diverse range of transportation improvement efforts we undertake each year.
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