Outlook bleak for N.Va. roads

The next six years of road building in Northern Virginia met a grim kickoff Wednesday night.

Lawmakers and local officials had already come to terms with how little money is left to spend on new projects at the annual six-year plan public hearing in Fairfax.

“It’s not a matter of choosing which projects will get funded but rather which projects will survive and which won’t,” said Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer.

He led a public hearing Wednesday night at the Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting to determine what projects should be listed on Virginia’s annual forecast of road construction.

This year, the Virginia Department of Transportation has $450 million less than it did last year to spend on capital projects.

The cost to complete projects in the 2007-2012 plan cost more than $7 billion. VDOT could have about $4.3 billion to spend.

The CTB has the final say in prioritization of new highways and interchanges. It operates somewhere in the middle of Virginia’s road building food chain.

Lawmakers design the revenue streams and the Virginia Department of Transportation receives the cash from various fees and a gas tax, which was last increased in 1986.

CTB members from across the state divvy up the money on projects usually proposed by local officials.

By next year, they will approve the roadwork plans for 2007 to 2012.

Discussions will likely center on making the plan work despite a lack of cash, maintenance costs that are too high and escalating material and land acquisition price tags.

Already VDOT cut funding to urban and secondary roads by 50 percent since 2002, Homer said.

Yet nearly a dozen local elected officials read lists of multi-million dollar needs that were just as important to congestion relief as the next.

“I’m embarrassed for my state that you have so little resources for these projects,” said Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg, who rattled off a long list of projects he requested in Loudoun County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Chris Zimmerman, chairman of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors, warned the crowd that if traffic chokes Northern Virginia much further, businesses will move out and the rest of the state will suffer.

“It is now time for the commonwealth to make some serious investments into its deficient system here in Northern Virginia,” said Prince William County Supervisor Marty E. Nohe, R-Coles.

He requested interchanges and road widening in Prince William then added that the state needs additional, permanent funding to pay for road upgrades.

Sen. Jeannemarie A. Devolites, R-Vienna, said she would resubmit a version of her plan to tax Northern Virginia to generate millions in road construction dollars during the 2007 session of the General Assembly.

She suggested the CTB remove all of the projects without funding from the six-year plan.

“If it’s three pages long, it’s three pages long,” Devolites said of the now 150-page document.

A heavily parsed plan would be a good bargaining tool for negotiating new transportation dollars out of Richmond, she said.

Del. Vivian E. Watts, D-Annandale, recommended the “pain” be spread across the state.

“As you review these over the next year, make your maintenance standards be the absolute base essential or where safety would be concerned or permanent damage would incur if the maintenance wouldn’t be done,” Watts told the board.

Homer told the crowd that soon VDOT wouldn’t even have enough money to match federal transportation grants, which match every state dollar with four.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors sent this list of priorities to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

No. 1 Priorities — already under way:

Widening of Va. 234, widening of Interstate 66, and extension of high occupancy vehicle lanes from Va. 234 business to bypass, U.S. 1 interchange at Va. 123, Va. 123 bridge over Occoquan River, Va. 28 bridge over Broad Run.

No. 2 Priorities — designed and ready to go:

Gainesville interchange, widen I-66 to U.S. 29, widen Va. 28 from Manassas to Fauquier County, rebuild the bridge at U.S. 1 over Neabsco Creek.

No. 3 Priorities — design under way:

Widen U.S. 1, extend Va. 234 bypass to Loudoun County, extend HOV lanes on I-66 to U.S. 15, extend HOV lanes on I-95 into Stafford County.