Va. Again Cuts Rail, Highway Projects
Friday, December 19, 2008
Declining tax revenue has forced Virginia transportation officials to again cut the number of projects to be funded during the next six years, but Northern Virginia will be spared from the most severe cuts this time around.
A $66 million paving project on Interstate 66 from the Capital Beltway to Route 50 has been removed, along with $29 million for the second stage of widening I-66 inside the Beltway. A $17 million project to improve access at the Vienna Metrorail station has also been dropped. Also cut were projects affecting Route 7 in Loudoun County, Route 28 in Prince William, the Route 29 and Gallows Road intersection in Fairfax County and the Arlington Boulevard and Courthouse Road interchange in Arlington County.
But funding remains for major projects such as the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project, the Capital Beltway high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and the initial widening of I-66 inside the Beltway.
"We got off relatively easy here in Northern Virginia," said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The reduction of $2.2 billion in the state's $10.6 billion six-year spending plan approved just six months ago is due to declining state revenues and unpredictable federal tax revenues, said Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer, who detailed the reductions yesterday for the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond.
"We are attempting to protect our transit and rail investments in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and in major freight corridors," he said.
Homer said another $400 million would have to be cut from the plan because of a declining economy.
"And it could grow even worse if economic conditions worsen," he said, adding that federal funds "are very unpredictable."
Homer said the state's funding plan has been retooled to prioritize projects that receive federal matching funds; structurally deficient bridges; Dulles rail; and freight improvements on Interstate 95 and Interstate 81.
Transit was also a winner in the revised plan, rising from $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion, although highway funding decreased from $7.9 billion to $6.5 billion.
Major projects that were deleted include a series of projects on I-81, including the Virginia Creeper Trail interchange and bridges throughout the highway corridor, which runs north-south along the western border of the state and is a major truck route.
But the plan also added a major project in Hampton Roads: a new midtown/downtown tunnel.
The federal transportation trust fund has taken a beating because Americans have cut back dramatically on driving, meaning less revenue from the federal gas tax. Congress added an emergency infusion of $9 billion, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough.
Congress and President-elect Barack Obama support a federal stimulus program that would fund projects across the country that are "shovel ready," to help boost jobs and the economy.
Homer said projects delayed or cut in this latest round will be prime candidates for possible federal stimulus dollars. He mentioned improvements near Fort Belvoir and Fort Lee, Virginia Railway Express and transit capital spending, and bridge and paving work across the commonwealth.