At the Old Dominion University Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center on Wednesday Afternoon, state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne addresses a joint meeting of the Hampton Roads and Peninsula Chambers of Commerce.
At the Old Dominion University Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center on Wednesday Afternoon, state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne addresses a joint meeting of the Hampton Roads and Peninsula Chambers of Commerce.

Layne talks project priorities

Published 10:26pm Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The state secretary of transportation addressed a joint meeting of the Hampton Roads and Peninsula Chambers of Commerce at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center on Wednesday afternoon.

Aubrey Layne, a Hampton Roads native, covered a variety of topics ranging from a new prioritization process for statewide transportation money to issues with the Port of Virginia during the meeting with about 70 business leaders.

The new prioritization process is designed to “depoliticize” the process of deciding which transportation projects to fund with state money and make it a completely objective process, Layne said.

“That is going to be a key component of fundamentally changing how transportation dollars are allocated across the state,” Layne said. “Projects have to make sense. They cannot just be politically motivated anymore.”

Layne said projects on which no construction has been done and which are not permitted all must go through the prioritization, which will rank projects based on a number of factors. Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia will get their own sets of funds from regional taxes to spend separately from the state priorities, however.

Project that enhance safety will be the No. 1 concern, Layne said, followed by projects that reduce congestion — for urban areas — and promote economic development — for rural areas.

Mobility and return on investment are also factors to be considered. In addition, local money behind a project also could move it up in the rankings, Layne said.

The new process doesn’t take effect until July 2016. It was approved by the General Assembly this session.

Layne also praised the new Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission. The commission was formed to give bonding authority to the regional money being brought in through the hiked regional sales tax and other avenues.

Local mayors and chairmen of boards of supervisors, as well as local General Assembly representatives, will sit on the board.

Layne said Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk, though he has stood in the way of other priorities in Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, has been an ally on the topic of transportation.

“He was adamant — mayors had to be the ones voting,” Layne said.

Layne also addressed other recent headlines, including the shakeup on the board of the Port of Virginia.

McAuliffe recently replaced five members of the port’s board after learning the port had lost about $34 million during the last five years than it reported.

“I’m hopeful all that is behind us,” Layne said Wednesday. “We’ve got to diversify, and the port offers a great opportunity to do that. We want to enhance economic development across the commonwealth, particularly in Hampton Roads.”

He also briefly addressed the Route 460 debacle, which has seen the state spend about $300 million for the project without the necessary environmental permits. Layne said the state would be left holding the bill for about $500 million if the road is never built, or is built without tolls.

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