Virginia transportation officials plan to cut a critical carpool connection through the Springfield interchange from the state's road-building blueprint while also delaying several other projects because there is no money to fund them.
A tentative list of changes and delays to the state's six-year program includes eliminating a $64 million link between the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway, where officials are considering adding high-occupancy toll lanes. Without the connection, carpoolers would have to exit the HOV lanes, continue on the regular lanes for a mile or so, exit to the Beltway and then enter the HOT lanes.
The list also calls for delaying for two years construction of a fourth lane on southbound Interstate 95 between Newington and Occoquan, putting off completion until at least 2012. The revised plan would also delay several smaller projects, such as widening Route 50 in Loudoun County and West Broad Street through Falls Church by a year and Mill Road in Alexandria by four years.
Northern Virginia projects cut from the program total $166 million, the largest chunk of the $602 million in cuts identified across the state. Officials said more cuts are to come -- the state needs to eliminate $1.3 billion from the draft program when the Commonwealth Transportation Board meets June 17. That would leave the program at $7.2 billion, slightly smaller than last year's road plan of $7.4 billion.
The changes could include slowing or eliminating plans to widen Interstate 66 to Gainesville, reconfigure the I-66/Route 29 interchange in Gainesville and add Virginia Railway Express and Metrorail cars, officials said.
The projects were added to a draft of the state's six-year program in March amid fevered debate in Richmond over taxes and the state's budget. Funding was based on the budget proposed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), which would have added about $200 million in transportation funds per year.
In late April, lawmakers agreed to a $60 billion spending plan that generates $1.6 billion in new money, mostly for schools with almost nothing for roads and transit.
"I hope the education people are happy," said J. Kenneth Klinge, a member of the transportation board. "Basically what I'm concerned about is that they got fixed so doggone well, it's killed any chance of transportation getting fixed for the next five years."
But others said the whole process is political. "These cuts are being used as part of a campaign to lobby for more transportation funding," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Schwartz said the real problem is development patterns that necessitate massive road-building. "We think it's long past time that the state evaluate the costs of sprawl development and how difficult it's going to be to provide adequate infrastructure to chase sprawl," he said.
The paring of the projects is the latest setback for an agency and elected officials who have struggled to find funds to build a number of roads they say are needed across the state. Shortly after Warner took over in 2002, the state's road program was cut by half because of a lack of money. Administration officials blamed Warner's predecessor, James S. Gilmore III (R), for over-promising projects.
Later that year, voters defeated proposals in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise sales taxes to pay for road and rail projects.
Hope sprung anew this year when the state Senate passed a plan that would have added $900 million for road and rail improvements each year. But that plan was dropped during intense negotiations with the House of Delegates over tax increases.
With little prospect of more money coming from Richmond next year -- lawmakers have said they are unwilling to battle over another tax increase in an election year -- the state has turned to private firms and the federal government to pay for projects. The Beltway HOT lane proposal, for instance, would be built and paid for by a private firm that would rely on toll revenue to pay back loans taken out to finance the project.
"It's incredible the Virginia General Assembly could go as many years as it has and fail to address transportation funding," said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that backs a range of new roads in the region. "We've invested in schools, we've invested in parks. We seem to have invested in every form of infrastructure except transportation."