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Interstate 95 corridor is focus of highway meeting

BY SCOTT SHENK

Several dozen people, including local elected officials, showed up for a meeting Monday night that focused on Virginia’s next Six-Year Improvement Plan, the blueprint for future transportation projects across the commonwealth.

Almost half of the 43 people who attended the public hearing at Massaponax High School spoke to a small contingent of state transportation leaders, with much of the focus aimed at projects along the I–95 corridor.

Issues with Virginia Railway Express also were a talking point among local elected officials, as well as plans for a new racetrack in Thornburg.

Several Thornburg residents said plans for a new racetrack there would only worsen already bad congestion.

The meeting was the last of nine throughout the state in which residents and elected officials got a chance to tell state transportation leaders about key issues in their areas. The local meeting was postponed in October due to Hurricane Sandy.

The transportation leaders at Monday’s meeting included Cord Sterling, a Stafford County supervisor and member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has final say in what projects make it in the SYIP, and David Tyeryar, Virginia’s deputy secretary of transportation.

The current 2013–2018 SYIP has $11.4 billion in funding set aside for   both roads and mass transit projects.

The next plan, which was the focus of Monday’s meeting, will present officials with funding challenges, Charles Kilpatrick, VDOT’s chief deputy commissioner, told the gathering.

Five residents Monday voiced concern about increased traffic and congestion if Old Dominion Speedway moves to Thornburg from Manassas, as has been proposed.

The owner of the racetrack has a contract to buy property off Mudd Tavern Road near I–95. The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors has to first approve the plans, which would need special-use permits and rezoning.

“I’ve lived there 40 years,” said Joyce Ackerman, whose home stands along Roxbury Mill Road, not far from where the racetrack would be built.

“We can hardly move” now because of congestion around U.S. 1 and I–95, she said, echoing other speakers who live in the area. Ackerman also said heavy traffic makes driving in the area dangerous, and the racetrack would only make things worse.

But it was the I–95 corridor that received most of the attention from speakers Monday night.

“In my humble opinion, that should be our top priority,” said Del. Mark Cole, R–Spotsylvania, who was followed by several other local officials and residents who echoed his sentiment.

They mentioned several projects already in the six-year plan and some that have been in state plans but eventually were scrapped, including the Outer Connector.

Spotsylvania officials pointed out the importance of the Jackson Gateway, a massive, $400 million project that would drastically change U.S. 1 and I–95 interchanges in the Massaponax area. It is still in the study phase and a long way from ever coming to fruition, but those who spoke about it touted its importance to economic development as well as a way to unclog the area’s roads.

Speakers brought up several other big projects they said are crucial to the Fredericksburg area’s transportation needs: reconstruction of U.S. 17 and the I–95 interchange in Stafford; the State Route 630 interchange reconstruction project in Stafford; the extension of the I–95 express lanes to Massaponax; and the Fall Hill Avenue widening project, which has about a $2.5 million funding gap.

All of those projects are included in the current SYIP and likely will remain in the new one, which the CTB will vote on next June.

Numerous elected officials also pointed out concerns about funding for VRE, which they said is a crucial piece of the I–95 corridor.

The commuter rail provider is in danger of losing $9.6 million in federal funds that would pay for track access fees. The state will have the final say in whether VRE gets that funding.

If that money isn’t provided for the fees, the officials said it could lead to VRE cutting back service, raising fares or charging member localities more.

“VRE is very important to us,” said Gary Skinner, Spotsylvania supervisor and a member of the VRE Operations Board.

Fellow VRE board member and Stafford Supervisor Paul Milde echoed Skinner’s sentiments, saying the loss of the access funding “would be devastating.”

After hearing the speakers, Sterling said that I–95 “is the highest priority” for the CTB and pointed to several of the big projects brought up during the meeting. Those projects will cost about $1 billion, he said.

“That’s a lot of money.”

Scott Shenk:  540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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