RICHMOND - The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved its six-year construction plan Wednesday, laying out more than $13 billion worth of road and rail projects planned between now and 2020.
The plan includes money to widen I-64 on the peninsula, and hundreds of other projects in Hampton Roads.
The document is massive, complex, and even by Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne's admission, difficult to follow. The Hampton Roads section alone runs nearly 200 pages, giving brief descriptions of projects planned.
Roughly $10 billion is earmarked for road construction and various pedestrian projects in the plan and another$3.2 billion for rail and public transportation projects.
That includes the addition of two more passenger trains from Richmond to Norfolk, which Gov. Terry McAuliffe said should help ease traffic on I-64. It also includes the promised extension of the Tide light rail system into Virginia Beach.
The plan also includes money for the U.S. 460 project. That project is suspended, but VDOT officials hope to get it back on track, and they've kept money set aside for the highway with the expectation that some version of it will get a green light from federal regulators.
The plan can be changed, and in fact transportation officials plan to update it later this year as part of a new project prioritization process that the General Assembly approved several months ago.
That process requires most projects to go through a review process and be assigned scores based on a number of factors, with each factor weighted by region. In Hampton Roads, for example, how much a given project is likely to ease congestion will likely be the biggest factor in deciding whether a road gets built or improved, McAuliffe and others have said.
The plan lays out priorities, but it doesn't give a complete picture of planned Virginia Department of Transportation spending. It doesn't include the billions in state maintenance money the department is likely to spend over the next six years – just the new construction.
It also doesn't include the new funding coming Hampton Roads way through the transportation sales tax deal that passed the legislature in 2013. Much of that money will be controlled by the new Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, a group of local officials that will pick projects.
Some of those projects may be in VDOT's six year plan, but that's not a requirement.
Even the six year plan's bottom line figure of $13.1 billion – given out Wednesday by VDOT and the governor's office – gives an incomplete picture of the plan itself, because it doesn't include debt service.
That adds another $2.4 billion in costs, VDOT said Wednesday.
Among the many local projects in the plan are:
- Widening eight miles of I-64.
- $450,000 next year to rebuild the I-64 off-ramp at LaSalle Avenue.
- $975,000 for traffic sensors at I-64 and Mercury Boulevard.
- Funding to extend Martin Luther King Freeway in Portsmouth and to make other upgrades related to the Downtown/Midtown tunnels project. Much of the funding comes from private equity through a deal with Elizabeth River Crossings, which is collecting tolls to cover construction and maintenance costs, but there's state and federal money in the deal as well.
- A new bicycle path along Route 60 and Croaker Road in James City County.
- Streetscaping, underground utility and storm water upgrades along Jefferson Avenue in Newport News.
The plan also re-allocates roughly $200 million once tagged for a bypass project around Charlottesville. After years of holdups, the money will be used to improve area roads and relieve congestion on U.S. 29 there, instead of for the once-planned bypass.
Trip Pollard, a transportation watchdog for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Wednesday that he'd like to see a similar strategy used on the U.S. 460 project. Instead of building a new tolled highway as once planned, the state's money should go toward smaller improvements in the same area, he said.
Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.