Hard work ahead on roads

Published 11:44 pm Friday, November 20, 2015

Local officials have hard work ahead of them to decide which regional transportation projects will get built with the money that’s available.

The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission met in Chesapeake Thursday and heard a variety of funding scenarios needed to close a revenue gap.

The proposals included tolling pretty much every water crossing in the area that doesn’t already have a toll, as well as the future Route 460/58 connector in Suffolk.

Email newsletter signup

But officials representing Suffolk said after the meeting that the tolls have not been decided upon. The proposals assumed all nine regional projects would be built at once, and that’s just not feasible, they said.

“We may even get to the point we’ll have to say, ‘The dollars are not there. We can’t do nine projects,’” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “It was a little bit disconcerting. Certainly to some people (it looks like) you’re going to toll everything. It was a lot of information, but absolutely nothing was agreed upon.”

The regional transportation priorities include Interstate 64 widening, improving the Fort Eustis Boulevard interchange, improving the interchange of interstate 64 and 264, widening the High Rise Bridge, building the Patriots Crossing, increasing capacity of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, and building the Route 460/58 connector.

“The thought you can build all the projects at one time is not a logical thought,” Delegate Chris Jones said.

The tolling proposals were made due to a drop in gas prices, which resulting in less tax revenue.

“We’re taking in less revenue, because gas prices have dropped dramatically, which is good for the public, but it’s costing us $45 to $48 million a year,” Jones said. That figure is for the Hampton Roads region alone.

“I’ve said all along that the bill passed in 2013 was not a cure-all,” he added, referring to a bill that added regional taxes in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, among other things. “It provided additional revenue to be able to construct roads, but just like in your household, you have to live within your means. We can’t build all these projects at one time. We have to prioritize.”

Jones said he plans to introduce a bill to require a free alternative when new tolls are created. It would not allow a toll on existing river crossings unless there’s new capacity created, he added.

Some of the toll proposals would only toll single-occupant vehicles in high-occupancy lanes, some of which would be new construction under the proposals, according to the presentation given to the commission on Thursday.