Scott Shenk writes about transportation issues affecting Fredericksburg-area residents.
State’s ‘pipeline’ of priority road projects includes I-95 tolls
In an effort to drum up interest in Virginia’s public-private transportation funding approach, the governor’s office on Tuesday announced a list of “pipeline” projects.
“We are seeking private sector input on potential … projects,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a release.
The list includes two big local projects, both of which involve interstate tolls.
The 22 “conceptual” and “candidate” projects fall under Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act.
Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton, the Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships and several state transportation agencies developed the pipeline list.
Among the 14 conceptual projects are electric car charging stations at rest areas, advertising opportunities and “privatization” of parking facilities.
Several environmental groups spoke out against the administration’s public-private approach, claiming tax money is being diverted to private businesses and that the state will be “squandering billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and borrowed money” on questionable projects.
“We believe that the PPTA program has hijacked good transportation planning and prioritization in Virginia,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “A small group of officials including the Secretary of Transportation have too much power to divert tax subsidies to private contractors for a list of projects that they alone develop. Are these mega-projects the right approaches for these corridors? Are they where we really need transportation investments?”
“We need to overhaul the PPTA program to provide greater scrutiny and input from legislators, localities, and the public,” said Trip Pollard, with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
State and local officials see public-private funding as a way to fill the gap of dwindling transportation funding.
Among the candidate projects on the list are tolls the state is considering adding on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg.
State and local officials see the tolls as a way to fill the gap of dwindling transportation funding.
And a lot of money will be needed in the coming years, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, which says $12.1 billion will be needed over 25 years to fix the aging interstate system.
VDOT estimates that a toll program could raise $250 million during the first five years and more than $50 million a year after that.
The plan, part of a three-state federal pilot project that is still in the planning phase, would charge drivers a toll along the interstate between mile marker 126 in Massaponax to the North Carolina state line. That state also is part of the pilot project.
VDOT plans to hold public hearings later this year, likely in the fall, when more details will be available.
Also included in the pipeline list is the I-95 Express Lanes project.
McDonnell touts it as one of the projects already in the pipeline.
The $940 million Express Lanes (formerly HOT Lanes) project will add two lanes in the median of I–95, covering nine miles from Dumfries to Garrisonville.
The project also will expand the already existing Northern Virginia HOV lanes for another 20 miles, reaching Edsall Road in Fairfax County. Plans call for the eventual extension of the Express Lanes south into Spotsylvania County.
The lanes would carry variable tolls for vehicles without at least three people.
In December, VDOT and Fluor–Transurban agreed in principle on the public-private venture.
Under the agreement, Fluor–Transurban will foot $843 million of the project’s bill, and the state will pay for the remaining $97 million.
The contract still has to be finalized, which should happen later this year, according to Joan Morris, a VDOT spokeswoman.
Work won’t begin until then. It should take about three years to complete the project.
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