Manassas Journal Messenger | $700 million for transportation projects

Residents of Prince William could see approximately $700 million in funding for transportation projects over the next six years under a $7.8 billion spending plan being considered by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The draft plan includes 55 projects for the area.

Tuesday evening, transportation officials heard hours of testimony from residents and elected officials of all nine Virginia transportation districts who argued for their pet projects during a public hearing by videoconference in Chantilly.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board, which decides which projects receive available money, heard local requests for continued support of projects listed in the plan, as well as money for unfunded initiatives like building the Gainesville Interchange, adding High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 66 from Va. 29 to Gainesville and widening Va. 28 and U.S. 1.

The board has added some additional cash for the Gainesville interchange project since this year’s first draft, Hanley said, but the project is far from funded.

“It still has a shortfall,” said Commonwealth Transportation Board member Kate Hanley, who represents the Northern Virginia District. “We’re going to have to struggle to find money. I know it’s important.”

Hanley said she hopes that preliminary plans for a public-private partnership to build the interchange come to fruition.

The Northern Virginia audience chuckled at some seemingly small requests from other regions, like a new guard rail or turning lane.

But all projects listed in the plan have been carefully screened in recent years, said Hanley, who represents the Northern Virginia District.

“Money has been so tight that only projects we have seen a need for have gotten this far,” Hanley said. “Even with that, there’s still a shortfall.”

Every region of the state has transportation problems, she said. Northern Virginia’s have just become more intense.

Prince William County residents have helped themselves over the years by approving over $250 million in bonds to fix local roads, Prince William Transportation Division Chief Tom Blaser told officials. Blaser hoped the board would help a county that helps itself, he said.

He thanked the board for including in the six-year-plan projects like widening Va. 234, reconstructing the Va. 123-Occoquan River bridge, building the U.S. 1/Va. 123 interchange, extending HOV lanes on I-66 from Va.234 business to Sudley Road, widening the Neabsco Creek bridge, widening the Va. 28 bridge at Broad Run and adding an access way into the future National Museum of the Marine Corps on U.S. 1.

The Manassas City Council’s top funding priority is the overpass needed to separate Va. 28 from a railroad crossing.

School buses, emergency vehicles and motorist get caught at that crossing for extended periods, making an overpass necessary, city officials have said.

The project has been in the works since 1992, and VDOT recently told Manassas the construction cost has increased $3 million this year.

Manassas Public Works Director Michael Moon asked transportation officials to make up that difference. Otherwise, if the city has to continually delay the project, it won’t ever get done, Moon said.

But the board most likely won’t be able to add any new projects to the plan, Hanley said.

“There’s just not enough money in the system,” Hanley said.

Hanley applauded the General Assembly for finding $850 million in additional one-time transportation money this year. But Hanley said the state needs a larger continuous revenue stream.

“We do need more money in the transportation system,” agreed Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, R-Woodbridge. “But we need to take it from existing revenue. We need to prioritize the taxpayers’ money in a way that puts more into transportation.”

The General Assembly should also lock up the transportation trust fund from other uses, Frederick said, a measure that failed during this year’s legislative session.

Hanley would support locking up the transportation trust fund, but the money currently available wouldn’t be enough, she said.

The Senate has been reluctant to provide the lock, citing the state’s other needs. Some say increasing the state’s comparatively low gas tax would provide the needed funds.

But while they differ on the appropriate source, most officials agree transportation needs more perennial money.

State lawmakers can’t afford to ignore transportation problems in Northern Virginia, said David Snyder, chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a coalition of area jurisdictions.

If conditions don’t improve, companies will stop locating in the region, slowing Virginia’s economic engine, Snyder said

“By helping job creation in Northern Virginia, there’s a fundamental impact on the rest of the state,” he said.

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