Leaders prioritize roads

Published 10:54 pm Thursday, October 17, 2013

The regional transportation planning organization on Thursday approved a list of projects to receive funding from new revenue streams produced from the new state budget.

Since July 1, taxpayers have been asked to fork over an additional 1 percent on the sales tax, and wholesale fuel has carried a new 3.5-percent tax.

Seven-tenths of the additional penny on the sales tax is being charged only in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, with the proceeds going back to those areas and earmarked for transportation projects.

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“We’ve never had this opportunity,” said Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. He called the amount of new funding “unprecedented.”

The region expects about $5.5 billion in new money during the next 20 years. It voted Wednesday to prioritize those funds into nine projects.

Two of the projects are partially in Suffolk. They are a $150 million connector from U.S. Route 460 to Interstate 664 and the widening of Interstate 664 associated with the Patriots Crossing project, a connector between Interstate 564 and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

The others include improvements to four sections of Interstate 64 on the Peninsula, another portion of the Patriots Crossing, widening of Interstate 64 on the Southside and improvements to the junction of interstates 64 and 264.

A number of other projects were considered, including the widening of Holland Road in Suffolk at the west end of the bypass — a project estimated to cost $75 million. However, it was not included in the approved list.

Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson said during the meeting that the projects that were passed over for the new money may still get funded with current revenue streams or through other means, like federal grants. In addition, some scenarios for funding the projects selected even leave some new money left over for further projects.

Farmer presented some scenarios that include approximate $2 tolls on some of the new projects, including the widened Interstate 664. However, putting locally-generated state money into the pot could eliminate tolls completely, he said.

“If the stars line up nicely,” Farmer said, ribbon-cuttings on some of the projects could be as little as 12 years away.

“We’re putting a lot of projects on the ground for a very modest ask from the federal government,” he added.