City pushes transportation projects

Published 8:48 pm Wednesday, January 7, 2009

With a state budget shortfall reaching into the billions, Suffolk leaders took some time on Wednesday to make sure that their representatives in Richmond don’t forget them.

Acknowledging the pain the commonwealth faces in trying to balance its budget this year, Miles Louria warned the three state legislators in attendance at a special City Hall meeting that it would be hard for Suffolk to make up for the expected shortages in state revenues.

“We hope that localities don’t have to share a disproportionate amount of that pain,” he said. “The tools just aren’t there to be able to share much more of a burden.”

Email newsletter signup

Louria is an attorney with the Hunton & Williams law firm and helps lobby on Suffolk’s behalf with the Virginia General Assembly.

He and the city’s department heads and administrative leaders joined the mayor and City Council in pitching Suffolk’s top 2009 legislative priorities to Suffolk’s state delegate and two state senators.

In a city considering major economic development opportunities whose success is intimately connected to significant transportation improvements, it came as no surprise to anyone that transportation funding led the city’s wish list on Wednesday.

Still, a question about the likelihood of a break in the legislative logjam that has formed around the issue in recent years drew sighs from all three Richmond representatives.

“Why are we all sighing at the same time?” Sen. Louise Lucas (D-18th) quipped, looking at Sen. Fred Quayle (R-13th) and Del. Chris Jones (R-76th), sitting next to her at the long table in the City Council conference room.

“We know we’re all going to have to work together,” Mayor Linda Johnson said. “We’ll do our part.”

Jones told the group that one of its highest priorities, replacement of the Kings Highway Bridge — at a projected cost of $65 million — would require just that kind of attitude to become a reality.

“It will have to be a partnership, and the city will have to put some money with it,” he predicted.

One factor that could change the calculus of transportation funding this year is President-Elect Barack Obama’s promise of a massive economic stimulus package that would include large amounts of money for highway and bridge-replacement projects.

The legislators predicted that the Assembly would have to return after the close of its short session this year to decide how to spend that money, once it’s made available.

They suggested, however, that the city make sure it’s ready to spend the money once it’s available.

“It’s incumbent on the localities to have projects ready to go,” Jones said.

“We keep hearing to get projects ‘shovel-ready,’” Mayor Johnson responded.

“We know there are lots of problems with transportation in Hampton Roads,” she added. “But Suffolk’s got (its) share.”

The Kings Highway Bridge replacement was second on a list of needed improvements to Suffolk’s transportation infrastructure.

Leading that list was a request for road improvements related to the increased rail traffic that is expected as a result of recent and projected expansion of Virginia’s port facilities. The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission expects the various crossing upgrades and other related projects will cost about $350 million.

A related big-ticket transportation priority the group put before legislators was the widening of Holland Road to six lanes to accommodate current and future traffic flows, especially in light of the proposed CenterPoint intermodal shipping facility that would be located in the corridor.

Also making the transportation priorities list were the widening of Nansemond Parkway from Northgate Industrial Park to Interstate 664 and construction of a parallel crossing over the Nansemond River to help alleviate congestion at the Godwin Bridge. The former project is projected to cost $25 million, and the latter is estimated at $65 million.

The Virginia legislature begins its 30-day session Jan. 14.