What is SMART SCALE?
Virginia’s SMART SCALE (§33.2-214.1) is about picking the right transportation projects for funding and ensuring the best use of limited tax dollars. It is the method of scoring planned projects included in VTrans that are funded by HB 1887. Transportation projects are scored based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers. Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.
SMART SCALE Process
Virginia’s SMART SCALE Process includes five overarching steps, as identified in the figure below. The preliminary step requires project sponsors to determine their eligibility prior to beginning the SMART SCALE applications process. The final step in the prioritization process includes programming of selected projects.
* The responsible agency for each process step is identified in italics in the figure above.
Funding for project prioritization comes from two main pathways —the construction District Grants Program (DGP) and the High-Priority Projects Program (HPPP) – both established in 2015 under the Code of Virginia §33.2-358. The DGP is open only to localities. Projects applying for the DGP funds compete with other projects from the same construction district. Projects applying for HPP funds compete with projects from across the Commonwealth. A project sponsor may request funding under both programs.
Certain fund types are not distributed through the project prioritization process, but may be used as a matching fund to the project, reducing the amount of SMART SCALE funds needed, including but not limited to: Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Funding (CMAQ), Regional Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (RSTBG), Revenue Sharing, Transportation Alternatives (TA) Set-Aside funds, Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and Other Safety Program Funds, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads Regional Funding, Tele-fees and Unpaved Road related Funds, Dedicated Bridge Program Funds (through FY2020), and State of Good Repair.
Project Eligibility & Eligible Applicants
SMART SCALE projects may be submitted by regional entities including Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Planning District Commissions (PDCs), along with public transit agencies; counties; and cities and towns that maintain their own infrastructure. Though all of these entities may submit projects, there are limitations on the grant program for which they can apply and the types of projects they can submit, detailed in the tables below. By majority vote of the CTB, the CTB may choose to submit up to two projects for evaluation each application cycle. Applications for funding through SMART SCALE must be related to projects located within boundaries of the qualifying entity.
A project application for funds from the HPPP or the DGP must meet an identified need in the Commonwealth’s long-range transportation plan – VTrans2040. This plan evaluates the Commonwealth’s needs at four scales focused on key travel markets and safety needs. Submitted projects must meet a need identified under one or more of the following categories:
- Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS) – Key multimodal travel corridors that move people and goods within and through Virginia, serving primarily long-distance /inter-regional travel markets
- Regional Networks (RN) – Multimodal networks that facilitate travel within urbanized areas/intra-regional travel markets
- Urban Development Areas (UDA) – Areas where jurisdictions intend to concentrate future population growth and development consistent with the UDA section within the Code of Virginia
(§ 15.2-2223.1); local activity center markets
- Transportation Safety Needs – Statewide safety needs identified in VTrans2040
Project Evaluation and Scoring
Once it has been determined that a project meets an identified need, the project is evaluated and scored. A scoring evaluation team takes the project and begins collecting additional data required for evaluating each of the five factors required by (§33.1-23.5:5) Chapter 726 of 2014 Virginia Acts of Assembly, and a sixth factor in areas greater than 200,000 in population. After the data has been collected for each project sufficient to evaluate each factor, factor scores are calculated and weighted according to the area type where the project is located. After factor scores have been weighted and summed, the Final Score is determined by dividing the total factor score by the SMART SCALE cost. Projects are then ranked and provided to the CTB for funding consideration.
SMART SCALE utilizes evaluation measures that quantify the benefits of each project for six factor areas, detailed in the table below.
Four area weighting typologies were established based on an analysis of transportation, land use, and demographic indicators to facilitate evaluation of each project’s benefit on a scale relative to the needs of that region as compared across the Commonwealth. The weighting typologies are shown below.
CTB Prioritization and Programming
For each SMART SCALE cycle, the screening and scoring results are presented to the CTB and the public. The CTB provides guidance on program development, and staff develop a draft SYIP based CTB direction and the SMART SCALE scoring results. A public comment period allows the public to comment on the draft SYIP, including the scoring results for individual projects. The CTB takes into account public comments regarding the draft SYIP, ultimately approving the final SYIP for implementation in June.
In general, once a project has been screened, scored, and selected for funding by the CTB, it will remain in the SYIP as a funding priority. Re-evaluation of a project score and funding decision may be needed if there are significant changes in the scope or cost (exceeding a sliding scale, below) to ensure the original intent/benefit of the scored projects and the CTB’s allocation decision. A project may also be re-evaluated if there is a significant reduction in the locally / regionally leveraged funds available for the project. In such cases, CTB action is required to confirm the commitment to funding the project.
If a submitted project is not selected for funding during a cycle, the CTB will allow eligible entities to re-submit the project the next cycle. In the event that revenue reductions decrease the amount of actual funding available for a particular SMART SCALE cohort, projects may be delayed and\or revenues from future rounds of SMART SCALE may be used.Once a project is selected for funding, it cannot be resubmitted to address cost increases or loss of other sources of funding.
SMART SCALE Biennial Schedule
For each SMART SCALE cycle, projects must be submitted by September 30th of the calendar year. Prior to submittal, all entities are encouraged to coordinate with their local VDOT and DRPT representatives. Once all projects have been submitted, evaluation teams work through December to screen and score all projects and provide project rankings to the CTB in January. To ensure sufficient funding will be available, the SMART SCALE cycle will transition to a bi-annual process beginning in 2017.