Spotsylvania puts transportation bonds on ‘fast track’
Spotsylvania County voters may be asked this year to sign off on millions of dollars in transportation projects, including improvements at the Interstate 95 exit in Massaponax.
Board of Supervisors members this week expressed support for proceeding with a bond referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot. For that to happen, they will have to approve the referendum’s wording by the end of June.
“We’re on a fast track here,” County Administrator Doug Barnes said Tuesday.
Essentially, voters would be asked whether the county ought to borrow money to finance road projects. The referendum would also include capital improvements for schools.
In 2005, voters approved a bond referendum that allowed the county to borrow up to $144 million for road projects and up to $41.6 million for schools. But that referendum expires in the fall of next year, 10 years after it took effect.
Supervisor Paul Trampe, explaining why he thought the new referendum should be on the ballot this year instead of in 2015, said, “Just in case something goes wrong, we have another year before the current one expires.”
It’s unclear how much the proposed bond referendum would allow the county to borrow. County staff will be ironing out the details in the coming months.
“The board will be involved in every piece of it as far as what is exactly on the referendum, the wording on the referendum, the projects, every facet of it,” Barnes told supervisors.
The topic of another referendum first came up during this year’s discussions about improvements to the Massaponax I–95 interchange.
Supervisors last month voted to allocate $200,000 for a federally mandated report on a proposed $45 million to $58 million “super ramp” that would travel from the Massaponax exit at southbound I–95 to the U.S. 17 Bypass. Proposed upgrades at southbound exit 126 also include a ramp to Southpoint Parkway and left turn-lanes onto northbound U.S. 1.
In addition, the county hopes to widen both the U.S. 17 Bypass bridge spanning I–95 and a stretch of the U.S. 17 Bypass from the bridge to Hospital Drive. That work would likely be the first of the proposed improvements to be completed.
The Virginia Department of Transportation hasn’t allocated any funding for the road upgrades in Massaponax. Still, VDOT could potentially provide Spotsylvania with up to $10 million a year in matching funds through its revenue-sharing program.
The Massaponax I–95 interchange has been an issue for years. During afternoon rush hours, vehicles queue up in the right lane of southbound I–95, waiting to get off the highway onto U.S. 1.
The situation will only become worse with no road improvements. Supervisors in the past year have approved almost 2,000 housing units—more than half of which are apartments—near Cosner’s Corner in Massaponax, and other large developments have been proposed nearby.
The developer of the 1,060-home Heritage Woods subdivision, which was approved in January, agreed to pay the county $3 million up front for transportation improvements. That 378-acre development will be off U.S. 1, just south of Lee’s Parke.
County staff had initially proposed borrowing a total of $20 million before the 2005 bond referendum expires for improvements at the I–95 exits in Massaponax and Thornburg. The downside of that option is that the county would be paying interest to borrow money that it wouldn’t immediately need.
Approving another bond referendum will give the county time to borrow money as the need arises.
Spotsylvania has borrowed $43.7 million for transportation projects—such as intersection improvements at Mine Road—since the 2005 bond referendum was approved.
The county has borrowed another $41.6 million for schools, the maximum amount allowed in the 2005 referendum. Generally speaking, that money helped pay for new schools, improvements to existing schools, new technology and new school buses.
Supervisor Gary Skinner said having the bond referendum on the ballot this year would help the school system.
“I think that’s needed by the schools as early as possible,” he said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402