Northern Virginia’s share of federal road aid would be ‘drop in the bucket,’ official says

The $4.4 billion in additional highway funding nationwide approved by the House of Representatives on Friday may not do much to relieve growing traffic problems in Virginia, according to a local transportation official.

The federal bill, which now goes before the Senate, would send an additional $102 million to the commonwealth, money that was not expected by state planners when they released their revised six-year road-building plan two weeks ago.

“One hundred and two million is only a drop in the bucket. We need $2.9 billion,” said Commonwealth Transportation Board member Ulysses “Xerk” White, who is also a Manassas City councilman.

Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Transportation released its revised six-year plan, shaving funding 29 percent down to $7.2 billion. Several area projects have been shelved, including: additional lanes on interstates 66 and 95, the Gainesville Interchange, a railroad grade-separation project in Manassas, new intersections at Va. 123 and Va. 234 along U.S. 1 and the widening of Minnieville and Linton Hall roads.

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board can still make changes to its six-year plan after public hearings June 5 for final approval June 20.

Federal allocations to Virginia have already fallen this year by approximately $200 million because the funds are tied to gas tax revenues that fell with the economy’s slowdown, according to reports earlier this year to the General Assembly. The president’s budget proposal required a reduction in federal highway spending by $8.6 billion nationally because less money, via the gas tax, was being poured into the federal Highway Trust Fund.

A fifth of Virginia’s six-year plan is funded by $1.2 billion in FRANs, a type of debt incurred against future federal funding, meaning future federal revenues do not go to the roads but to pay off the debt and interest, a cost of approximately $250 million annually.

VDOT Commissioner Philip A. Shucet had said this debt has minimized the current pain but leaves the need for more revenue in the future.

“We can’t continue in the fashion we’re in currently and expect to maintain a balanced program,” he said. “There is the threat of continued imbalances if something’s not done on either the revenue side or the expenditure side.”

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