‘Huge step forward’

Published 7:12 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

City officials react to possible road funding

Despite some significant omissions from the proposed plan, city officials exuded excitement about potential transportation funding during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

A statewide list of transportation projects recommended to receive a new stream of funding outlined by 2014’s House Bill 2 was released Tuesday, and it includes three projects in Suffolk.

“This is a huge step forward,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said during the meeting. “When you put it in perspective, $7 billion worth of projects were submitted for this HB2 money, there was only a little over $1.5 billion to allot, and of that there’s 22 projects in Hampton Roads, and three of those happen to be ours. We’re very excited about that.”

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The recommendations came down from Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. Projects were scored based on how well they would ease congestion, improve economic development, provide accessibility to jobs, improve safety and environmental quality and support transportation-efficient land use.

The biggest Suffolk project recommended for funding is the widening of a portion of Holland Road. Part of the project already has been funded by the city, but the $40 million price tag for construction remains outstanding. The city has funded $17 million of the project, with a matching amount already funded by the state.

“If this holds true, we’ll have $40 million to go to construction,” Public Works Director Eric Nielsen said in Wednesday’s meeting.

Offers to owners of property needed for the project should go out within the next 30 to 45 days, Nielsen said. All property needed should be acquired within two years.

Also recommended for funding are improvements to the intersection of Bridge and Shoulders Hill roads. Suffolk has paid for the design costs of that project already, Nielsen said Wednesday.

“We went ahead and started moving along, hoping that we would find construction money,” he said. The project is recommended for nearly $15 million in state money.

Also recommended are improvements to the park-and-ride lot off Godwin Boulevard near the bypass. The $600,000 recommended would fully fund the project, Nielsen said.

“This is exceptionally good news,” Councilman Mike Duman said in Wednesday’s meeting. He thanked the mayor for her work in representing the city’s interests within the region.

“I don’t know if everyone realizes how much time she puts into the transportation initiatives and representing our city,” he said.

Johnson said the city needs to be diligent over the next five months as the recommendations face more hurdles, including potential revisions by the Commonwealth Transportation Board and public hearings, where citizens will have the chance to speak on the recommendations.

“This new formula is exciting, if in fact this is the way it’s going to work, and I think it’s looking really good for us,” Johnson said.

Two projects submitted by Suffolk did not make it onto the first list of recommendations: the replacement of the Kings Highway Bridge, a $75 million project, which ranked 254th out of 287 statewide; and improvements to the Mills Godwin Bridge, a $74.7 million project, which ranked 278th.

On Thursday, Johnson said very few bridge projects had been recommended for funding statewide. However, the recommendations do not preclude the possibility of projects being funded through other revenue streams.