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VDOT Public Hearing Brings Few Complaints

The VDOT Panel listens to speakers at last Thursday’s meeting.

by Valerie Garner

Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gregory Whirley  said that funding for the six–year transportation plan totaled $10.4 billion. Virginia highways will get $8.1 billion while rail and public transportation get the rest at $2.3 billion.

There was standing room only at Virginia’s Department of Transportation Salem branch Thursday evening. Speakers hailed from Lynchburg, Bristol, Harrisonburg, Blacksburg, Danville, Martinsville and Roanoke. All 22 speakers advocated for projects in their localities with several speakers advocating for bus service to Lynchburg to catch the Amtrak train.

A nine-person panel of representatives from Staunton, Bristol, Lynchburg and Salem listened to each speaker. Richard Caywood represented the Salem branch.

Dana Martin, who serves as Southwest Virginia’s representative on the Transportation Board, said, “he had to admit that it is a little bit more of a pleasure [to serve] right now then it has been in recent years … we’re all in that same boat together.”

An additional $2.6 billion has been added by the General Assembly at Governor Bob McDonnell’s urging partly by issuing $1.1 billion in controversial GARVEE bonds. GARVEE bonds allow states to borrow against future federal entitlements through bond issues to speed up work on highways.

Democratic Party of Virginia chair, Brian Moran, called GARVEE bonds “a gamble against federal highway dollars that are not guaranteed to exist in the future; this plan would lead to a dangerous explosion in public IOU’s.”

There were no complaints from Democrat State Senator Roscoe Reynolds of Henry County. He was the first speaker at the podium Thursday evening. The second speaker was Roanoke City’s Mayor David Bowers.

Sen. Reynolds told the panel that, “I am more grateful than I can say to administrators of the area I represent and their quick response when citizens express concerns.” Reynolds co-patroned the governor’s transportation funding package in the 2011 session.

“It is absolutely essential to the people I represent that improvements to I-58 be completed … please do all that you can to move that along,” said Reynolds. He asked that construction begin prior to the scheduled July 2012 date. “This is a part of Virginia that is suffering very significantly,” said Reynolds. He explained how Carroll County, Patrick County and Henry County needed the economic boost that I-58 improvements would bring his economically depressed district.

He also asked that construction of I-73 begin as soon as possible, especially the stretch closest to the North Carolina border.

Mayor Bowers hit hard right off the bat saying, “If you want economic development, Roanoke will give you economic development.” He called attention to the Valley View Interchange project that is expected to increase the opportunity for economic development. Bowers detailed how Roanoke City built the initial part of the interchange with its own money. The result of which was an economic boon to Valley View Mall. Completion of the interchange will open up 100 acres, with the potential for $100 million dollars of new development.

Funds for the Elm Avenue/Interstate 581 project were appropriated from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The schedule called for qualifications to be submitted February with Requests for Proposals going out in May.

Award for the project is expected September 14, 2011. According to the Request for Qualifications, the project cost is estimated at $17.6  million. Adding previously allocated funds will make the final total closer to $20 million.

The Valley View interchange is still in its infancy. VDOT has yet to put out a request for engineering services but that should come soon. The estimated project cost is $69 million with engineering cost bringing it just short of $71 million.


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