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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Help at last for Virginia’s roads

Virginia’s roads get a lot more use than you think. Just look at the numbers. In 1975, the year I got my driver’s license, motorists clocked roughly 95 million miles each year on the Commonwealth’s roads, highways and interstates. Thirty years later that number had risen to 225 million miles and it keeps going up. While our road infrastructure has grown and improved, the Commonwealth has still been hard pressed to keep up with that kind of demand. Anyone caught in the umpteenth cycle of a traffic light somewhere past Fredericksburg Route 3 knows exactly what I mean. Our local roads, more often than not, just can’t handle the volume.   

Sadly, for years, it seemed that nothing was getting done to address the problem on the scale it deserved. For over a decade the yearly Richmond

legislative log jam over transportation followed the same predictable script. There would be a proposal from the Governor to identify a new source of revenue for transportation. This would get a little steam, it would be hotly debated, lots of political capital would be expended, but the result was almost always the same. The bills never saw the light of day. Transportation funding continued to proceed on a piecemeal basis, and in the meantime, Virginia’s roads just got that much older and that much more congested. This year, however, there has been some progress.

Governor McDonnell, in a move that was somewhat unexpected, proposed borrowing approximately $4 billion for road and transportation improvements. Further, he anticipates that by leveraging federal funds this will represent as much a $6 billion investment in Virginia’s roads. There were those, keeping in mind Virginia’s “pay as you go tradition” who thought that this was too much debt to support from the general fund. But the Governor argued that Virginia’s books are in order, the Commonwealth has a modest surplus (one of only a hand full of states who can say that right now), and the consensus is that Virginia can easily handle the additional debt with no risk to its AAA bond rating.

The bill has had surprisingly easing sailing through the legislature. In the Senate it had healthy bi-partisan support while in the House, Democrats generally opposed it. Democrats would have preferred an additional revenue mechanism exclusively for roads. This topic has been the focus of most transportation debates for the past decade. However, in the no-tax climate in Richmond, even the notion of a modest user tax wasn’t going to get much of a hearing. So, this bill, as one Democrat argued, isn’t what they would have wanted, but it was the best they were going to get, and he could support it.

Behind the numbers there are a staggering 900 separate projects statewide that will be funded with this money. As Cord Sterling, a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (the body responsible for prioritizing the plan) says “the Governor’s transportation plan coupled with the other projects will result in the most significant improvement to our regional transportation network in decades.” Sterling also serves on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.

The projects in this bill include the HOT lanes, assistance to the VRE in extending its services to Spotsylvania, bridge construction and replacement, new turn lanes, and widening of roads. In King George this includes work to construct turn lanes on Route 206, reconstruction of Route 625 from Route 301 to Route 650, and reconstruction of 625 from Route 301 to Route 650. In Westmoreland County the bonds will fund the replacement of the Route 205 Bridge at Mattox Creek and the Route 621 Bridge over the Nomini Creek. The total value of these projects, including work in Northumberland County, totals nearly a million dollars in new road projects.

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