Four days ago Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, issued an analysis contending that the McDonnell administration could find $300 million to support the Rail-to-Dulles heavy rail project from funds set aside for public private partnerships. That argument is moot now that the state Senate approved the 2013-2014 budget without the extra monies for Dulles rail.
But Schwartz made a point that still resonates: “The Virginia Secretary of Transportation,” he said, “should provide a clear presentation of his funding allocations and priorities to the legislators.”
Here’s how Schwartz reconstructs state commitments to public private partnerships so far:
- $124 million to the Coalfields Expressway
- 350 million in GARVEE bonds for the Midtown/Downtown tunnels
- $124 million (proposed) for Interstate 95 HOT lanes
- $500 million (proposed) for Route 460
(Note: The precise state allocation to the Midtown/Downtown tunnels is still under negotiation as the administration seeks to provide roughly $100 million in toll relief.)
Those projects account for nearly $1.1 billion, or more than two-thirds of all the money the state has set aside for public-private partnerships (P3s). As it currently stands, Hampton Roads, with 21% of the state population, will wind up with 57% of all the boodle. I find it remarkable that no one is complaining that one corner of the state should receive the lion’s share of P3 funding. Is anyone paying attention?
Schwartz is particularly critical of the U.S. 460 Connector: “Hampton Roads officials have said Route 460 is not their priority and that they would rather have the funds allocated to their traffic choked bridge/tunnel crossings. During this legislative session, they have campaigned for funds to reduce the toll burden imposed in the current PPTA deal for the Midtown/Downtown tunnels and they have asked for Route 460 funds to be allocated to the James River crossings.”
Governor Bob McDonnell views U.S. 460 as an economic development project, and economic developers concur that the potential exists to turn U.S. 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg into a world-class manufacturing and logistics corridor. But the question remains: Is the potential so enormous that it justifies allotting one-third of all P3 money to a single project?
Count on Bacon’s Rebellion to keep asking the questions that people should be asking.