CTB give tentative approval to 6-year plan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2003

Associated Press

State transportation officials proposed modest revisions Wednesday to a six-year highway construction and mass transit program that was slashed by 30 percent a year ago.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board on Thursday gave a tentative nod to the 1,757 projects in the $7.2 billion plan.


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The board is expected to vote on the plan on June 19 after public hearings in Lexington and Suffolk. The Suffolk hearing will be held from 5-7 p.m. June 5 at King’s Fork Middle School, 350 Kings Fork Road.

The overall size of the program would not change much. The revised plan includes 80 new projects worth $149 million, but it also removes 16 projects that had been estimated to cost $72 million.

The budget earmarks $910,000 in funds for projects in Suffolk next year, including $150,000 to coordinate traffic signals in the downtown Suffolk area and $39,000 to complete funding of a $252,000 multi-city bicycle/pedestrian trail that will originate at the Seaboard Train Station and Railroad Museum on North Main Street.

But the bulk of the city’s 2004 allocation, $712,000, as well as an additional $1.4 million from 2005 to 2007, will be used to absorb the cost overrun of the widening of North Main Street to five lanes. That project was completed behind schedule and over budget last year.

A connector road linking Finney Avenue and Washington Street is the only other Suffolk project to receive funding over the next six years. A total of $1.6 million from 2007 to 2009 will be set aside for the project.

Statewide, the biggest new initiatives include repaving Interstate 64 between Richmond and Williamsburg, $51 million; an environmental study for future improvements to the Interstate 81 corridor, $37 million; and 26 relatively small congestion relief measures in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, $19 million.

Voters in traffic-choked northern Virginia and Hampton Roads last November rejected proposed regional sales tax increases that would have financed much more aggressive highway building and transit plans. Gov. Mark R. Warner, who campaigned for the tax increases, said the projects in the six-year plan will make a difference.

&uot;While these small projects will not solve our transportation problems, they will, in every case, reduce traffic congestion and enhance air quality,&uot; Warner said.

Warner had asked residents and government officials in the two regions for quick-fix ideas after the defeat of the sales tax proposals. The 12 projects in northern Virginia include Tysons Corner intersection improvements, a Loudoun County commuter bus service and Virginia Railway Express parking improvements. Among the 14 Hampton Roads projects are commuter-parking improvements, a regional telecommuting pilot project and Route 17 signal upgrades.

Other modest projects scattered across the state include traffic signal improvements, road widening and construction of turn lanes.

Transportation officials said a stagnant economy, minuscule state revenue growth and a commitment to eliminate deficits on completed projects precluded more additions to the six-year plan.

&uot;The program is holding steady,&uot; said state Transportation Secretary Whitt Clement.

The plan, which is updated annually, allocates $6.4 billion for highway construction and $729 million for mass transit and alternative modes of transportation.

Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet said a major goal was to wipe out project deficits. More than $670 million was earmarked to eliminate deficits on 127 projects, soaking up funds that otherwise could be used for new construction.

During a Wednesday morning teleconference in which the revised program was outlined for local officials at regional VDOT offices, Del. Joe Johnson, D-Abingdon, asked what assurances Virginians have that they now have a real road-building plan and &uot;not just talk.&uot;

Said Clement: &uot;As far as I’m concerned, you can bank on it.&uot;

Allison T. Williams, staff writer for the Suffolk News-Herald, contributed to this report.