by James A. Bacon
The McDonnell administration has announced a draft list of projects to be pursued by the Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships (OTP3). Eight projects deemed formal “candidates” for consideration range from corridor improvements along Interstate 95 to the conversion of HOV lanes into HOT lanes in Hampton Roads. Fourteen “conceptual” projects vary from rest area enhancements and cell tower opportunities to Dulles Metro rail station air rights and Wallops Island visitor & support facilities.
“The past two years have seen the McDonnell administration take several proactive steps to meet Virginia’s transportation challenges including streamlining the PPTA implementation guidelines and creation of the OTP3 to focus on the identification, development and delivery of P3 projects across all modes of transportation in Virginia,” said Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton in a prepared statement. “The OTP3 has been charged with creating an environment that encourages private investment and proactively identifies, assesses and implements the Commonwealth’s priority transportation projects.”
Said OTP3 Director Tony Kinn: “The pipeline is a significant step forward and reinforces why Virginia continues to be viewed as a national leader in public-private partnerships.”
However, the list did not win universal plaudits.
“We believe that the PPTA program has hijacked good transportation planning and prioritization in Virginia,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in a press release issued yesterday. “A small group of officials including the Secretary of Transportation have too much power to divert tax subsidies to private contractors for a list of projects that they alone develop. Are these mega-projects the right approaches for these corridors? Are they where we really need transportation investments?”
Smart Growth groups identified the U.S. 460 Connector project and a proposed NOVA North-South Corridor as particularly worrisome, the former because the state is promising $750 million in state and Virginia Port Authority funds and the latter because it would advance a sprawl-inducing outer beltway around the Washington region.
“We are very concerned about the diversion of public dollars to private priorities,” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “I fear there is a rush to commit the last remaining transportation dollars to projects that fail to address the concerns of the public about the poor state of existing local road networks across the Commonwealth.”
Virginian-Pilot reporter Debbie Messina interviewed Connaughton about converting HOV to HOT lanes and other proposals affecting Hampton Roads.
“We need to try to get more through-put with the existing capacity,” Connaughton said. He added that building more lanes may also be considered. …
It’s no surprise that the list also includes widening I-64 between Newport News and Richmond, and expanding Hampton Roads water crossings, which is offered as a package of projects that would include the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and the Patriots Crossing/Third Crossing.
“It’s quite clear to us that when you look at the Hampton Roads crossings, you have to look at them as a complete system and develop them either incrementally or with a total approach,” Connaughton said. Tackling them individually provides only marginal improvements, he added.
I don’t have time today for anything more than this quick-and-dirty response but I will follow up with a closer analysis of the list.