HRTAC holds budget hearing

Published 11:16 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An important local road project got a boost from Virginia Beach on Wednesday.

In comments submitted during a public hearing on the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission draft budget, a Virginia Beach official expressed concern that the Route 460/58/13 connector in Suffolk would receive no funds for preliminary engineering under the proposed spending plan.

“We suggest that $5 million, at least, be provided for preliminary engineering work on this project,” said Rob Matthias, assistant to the city manager, reading a statement from Mayor Will Sessoms.

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“It is especially concerning in that access to the regional landfill in Suffolk needs to be provided by a safe grade-separated overpass that is part of this project.”

The $150 million connector project includes overpasses at the landfill and Hampton Roads Executive Airport — two facilities with a regional focus.

It has been listed as a candidate project for the commission, established by state legislators to fix traffic congestion in Hampton Roads using new region-specific tax dollars and the ability to issue bonds funded with tolls, but several other projects have taken precedence in the initial financial plan.

Other projects include construction of the I-64/I-264 interchange, the Fort Eustis interchange and three segments of widening I-64; environmental work for Patriot’s Crossing; and preliminary environmental work for a new high-rise bridge.

Some of those projects came under fire from speakers during the hearing, particularly Patriot’s Crossing.

“This third crossing is just going to move bottlenecks from one place to another,” Frank Papcin said.

Robert Brown, who recommended a more cost-effective option, said the project would cost “billions of dollars” and is too complicated. “A more proper name would the Spider Web Crossing,” he quipped.

Others praised the move to build a third crossing. Barry Bishop, executive vice president of the Greater Norfolk Corp., said it is “critical to diversify and grow our future economy.”

Craig Poppen, president of Virginia Beach Vision, was generally supportive of the entire slate of projects set to receive funding. “These projects are critical to the economy of Virginia and our region,” he said.

Other aspects of the draft spending plan received a less equitable share of positive and negative remarks.

Proposed administrative allocations in fiscal 2015 include almost $72,500 for support staff from the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization — a sister organization to HRTAC — and $585,000 for HRTAC staff, including $156,000 to $240,000 for the executive director and $108,000 to $162,000 for a deputy executive director.

Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky said that if Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne could serve part time in an executive capacity to “fill in the gap … he apparently doesn’t see it as being an all-consuming task. I don’t either.”

“The fact that compensation exceeds that of most city managers is a great concern to me,” he said.

Terry Danaher took issue with spending more than $50,000 on executive search services, believing commission members already have candidates in mind. She said the draft budget “could be a more honest representation” of eventual administrative costs.

Danaher believes it’s unfair for the commission to use the services of HRTPO support staff without paying them more, she indicated.

“I know we are a Right to Work state, but I didn’t think we were going back to slavery,” Danaher said.