Virginia makes plans for transportation stimulus package

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Print this page PETER BACQUÉ, Media General News Service

Last month, President Barack Obama and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine stood on the site of the Fairfax County Parkway to push for a federal stimulus for languishing transportation projects like it across the country.

With the stimulus package now law, Virginia is set to receive $694.5 million to help fix its crumbling roads and bridges. The state’s public transit systems will get an additional $116.1 million.

Federally funded dirt should start flying on transportation job sites this summer, said state Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer.

But neighboring states are moving even quicker to put the transportation stimulus money into action.

Maryland started work last week on a $2.1 million road resurfacing project in Montgomery County, the first high way work in the nation financed by the federal economic stimulus package.

North Carolina has 70 highway and bridge projects ready to go.

“We’ll award those contracts in the next two weeks,” North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said last week, “so the shovels will hit shortly after that.”

Because of state law, Virginia has to wait to put work on the street until the legislature OKs the needed budget changes, officials said.

The Kaine administration and legislative leaders have agreed to consult on the use of the transportation stimulus funds. The legislative leaders want to be on the same page about which projects go forward. Agency officials anticipate some stimulus-funded construction to be under way by about June 1.

Homer welcomes the millions, but he points out that Virginia has $1 billion just in deteriorated pavement that needs immediate attention, and fixing all of the bridges that are worn out or overtaxed with traffic would cost $3.7 billion.

Meanwhile, public-transit agencies have asked the state for more than $300 million for help with their capital needs, according to Jennifer Pickett with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Despite the coming infusion of federal dollars, “it only helps but so much,” said Gerald P. McCarthy, the Richmond representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Thanks to state budget shortfalls, he noted, Virginia has had to whack about $3 billion from its six-year transportation improvement program since June.

Homer said state officials want to come up with a program grounded in “conservative, defensible projects” that tackle “bad bridges, bad pavements and on-going projects that serve jobs.”

Given the perennial competition for transportation funding, state officials have yet to detail scenarios for spending the federal highway stimulus money.

The commonwealth has made an attempt to open up the project selection, even setting up a Web site for suggestions on ways to use the funds. Citizens, officials, organizations and businesses had come up with more than 7,000 proposals by Friday’s deadline.

The transportation stimulus program is supposed to be free of federal earmarks, but the package does contain plenty of restrictions — sometimes conflicting — to assure that the money gets spread across the state.

Priority is supposed to go to the state’s poorer areas — which tend to be rural — while other provisions of the stimulus program emphasize putting the money where the traffic is, in heavily populated — and often wealthier — areas.

“Parts of the allocation are set aside to make sure that urban, suburban, and rural areas alike all get a share,” the White House says.

As a result, for instance, $465.3 million will be available for projects in economically distressed areas in Virginia. Among large, congested metropolitan areas, Richmond is due $24.1 million, Northern Virginia gets $52.7 million and Hampton Roads receives $41 million. Suburban areas are in line for $76.1 million, and $14.4 million will go to small communities.

Although state officials have for months been culling proposals to come up with suitable transportation projects, the public will get its first look at possible stimulus work at a briefing for the Commonwealth Transportation Board on March 18, officials said.

However, Homer has outlined some “illustrative projects” that would be prime candidates for the federal dollars:

Interstate 95 bridge replacements in Richmond;

Interstate 64 repaving in Richmond;

road improvements at Fort Lee;

the Interstate 95 corridor freight rail improvements;

the Coalfields Expressway and U.S. 460 projects in Southwest Virginia; and

1,400 other state highway projects that have been delayed or cancelled this year.

“There’s a strong possibility that there will be some consensus projects that will immediately go into procurement after that briefing,” Homer said.

For many of the jobs, “industry can respond in two to three weeks,” said Jeff Southard, executive vice president with the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, the state’s roadbuilders association.

Said McCarthy, “That’s warp speed for government.”

Peter Bacqué is a staff writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Stimulating Virginia transportation

The federal economic stimulus package gives Virginia $694.5 million to repair its crumbling roads and bridges. The allocations are:

$465.3 million for statewide use

$117.8 million for urban areas over 200,000 population

$76.1 million for suburban areas under 200,000 population

$14.4 million for rural areas under 5,000 population

$20.8 million for local transportation-related enhancement projects

The federal government also wants priority given to projects in economically distressed areas that can be completed within three years. To make sure that the funds get into the economy quickly, the state has until June 29 to assign the funds to specific projects.

Mass transit: The state will also received $116.1 million for mass transportation projects, most of which will go to Northern Virginia.

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SOURCE: Virginia Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation

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