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Sterling takes pride in roadwork progress

Transportation planning is never finished.

That’s one thing Cord Sterling has learned during his time on the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

And it’s not easy to get transportation projects done around here.

That’s something else Sterling has learned in his eight years as CTB member and Stafford County supervisor.

Sterling doesn’t like excuses, though. He wants to get things done.

As his second term on the 15-member board that sets Virginia’s transportation policies and construction priorities winds down, he says he has gotten some things done.

Work, for instance, has started on the Falmouth intersection, a controversial project that languished for decades.

That was Sterling’s top priority when he was appointed to the board by Gov. Tim Kaine.

Numerous other top-priority projects, some of which have been talked about for years, have made their way into the transportation pipeline.

“My job is to get transportation solutions moving forward,” he said.

Sterling knows the Fredericksburg area’s traffic problems well, having been a longtime commuter from Stafford to Washington, D.C., where he is vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association.

Sterling picks up commuters in the slug lines so he can use the Interstate 95 and 395 HOV lanes.

“I haven’t had one that has complained about me by name yet,” he said. “That would be interesting.”

Sterling’s background is in the military, and that includes experience with transportation planning.

Prior to serving on the CTB, Sterling worked for Virginia Sen. John Warner. A key role in Sterling’s work for the Republican involved planning for transportation changes and challenges that came with the Defense Base Closure and Realignment. BRAC has had an impact on the U.S. 1 and I–95 corridors north of Fredericksburg.

Sterling, a California native, came into the powerful transportation position knowing the challenges.

Fredericksburg-area officials have a history of backtracking on major projects while encouraging the region’s population to explode.

Sterling has seen some of the problems grow during his two terms.

Regional transportation officials have spent the past two years embroiled in local political battles that impacted projects and caused a split on the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Amid those problems, the 46-year-old Sterling dug in and pushed for resolutions. Though problems still linger on FAMPO, the board has garnered funding for numerous major projects in recent years.

Early on, when Sterling was an at-large urban CTB member, he was speaking with members of a Falmouth historical group opposed to certain options for fixing the intersection at U.S. 1, U.S. 17 and Butler Road.

They threatened to bring 6,000 people to protest, he recalled.

“And I said, ‘You can bring 6,000 people, but I’m gonna fix it because everybody else wants it fixed. Next question.’”

Sterling, who served in the Marines, is known for being direct and stern. He says that’s because he wants to get things done.

Lloyd Robinson, administrator of FAMPO, said Sterling has helped the region get projects on the books, even in trying times.

“He’s been a strong voice for the region at the CTB,” said Robinson, who described Sterling as “hands on, very analytic. He does his homework and gets the job done.”

Not all local elected officials believe Sterling has stood up for them, including Spotsylvania County Supervisor David Ross. He and fellow Spotsylvania Supervisor Tim McLaughlin have butted heads with Sterling and other local officials over a parkway planned to cross into Spotsylvania.

At a recent FAMPO meeting, Ross accused Sterling of not representing Spotsylvania’s interests.

Sterling said he’s not interested in doing more road studies, an approach he said has set the area back. And, to Sterling, the approach by the Spotsylvania officials was more of the same.

Some elected area officials “don’t like the fact that we’re pushing through on things,” he said. “That’s their choice, they have that prerogative, but my job is not to get nothing done, it’s to get things done, to move transportation forward.”

While opponents of the parkway paralleling State Route 3 near River Road support Ross and McLaughlin’s stance, Sterling said he has talked to many other Spotsylvania residents who are for it.

Beyond the Falmouth intersection, Sterling said he focused on the priorities set by FAMPO, which is composed of area elected officials and transportation representatives.

A few projects stand out to Sterling:

  • The State Route 630 interchange reconstruction and widening in Stafford is one that is moving forward after many years of talk.
  • U.S. 17 in Stafford is being widened.
  • A pair of intersection projects along U.S. 1 in Spotsylvania are in the planning stages.
  • The Rappahannock River Crossing is moving ahead. The project calls for adding collector–distributor roads and bridges along I–95 between U.S. 17 in Stafford and State Route 3 in Fredericksburg. Those interchanges also would be improved.

That project also includes the Rappahannock Parkway, the road paralleling Route 3 that Spotsylvania supervisors do not want built.

Sterling said there is plenty more that needs to be done to keep up with one of the fastest-growing areas in Virginia.

“There’s always another project,” he said.

Sterling pointed to U.S. 1, saying that primary road through the area needs to be widened. Roads in the Massaponax area also need to be improved, he said.

The Falmouth and Chatham bridges over the Rappahannock both need to be replaced, he added, and he’s pushing for funding to do that.

Looking back, Sterling doesn’t want to be remembered as just another official who passed the buck.

“I’m not going to leave it to whoever succeeds me 20 years down the road to look back and say, ‘Why didn’t he make the decisions and move forward on what everybody, or 99 percent of the public, knew needed to be done?’”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436



Gov. Terry McAuliffe will select the next Fredericksburg District representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board when Cord Sterling’s second term ends June 30.

Because Sterling cannot serve a third consecutive term, speculation has begun about who will get the post on the powerful policy and road-priority setting board.

Charlie Payne, a local attorney who often represents developers, has been mentioned as a candidate and has the support of some elected officials.

Payne has ties to McAuliffe, through former President Clinton. Payne was a policy adviser for the Small Business Administration under Clinton.