I’ve been out of town attending a conference so I wasn’t able to cover the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting this month. But based on press coverage and press releases, it sounds like Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s transportation team is getting a good handle on things, correcting some of the more grievous policy decisions of the McDonnell administration. Hitting the highlights…
U.S. 460 probe. The state Inspector General’s Office has joined the Virginia Department of Transportation’s internal probe of the $1.4 billion U.S. 460 connector between Petersburg and Suffolk. The IG inquiry, which should be complete by the end of the month, will examine whether the state followed its own procurement rules, the Times-Dispatch reports. Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne temporarily pulled the plug when it was clear that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not yet prepared to issue permits for construction. The state racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in potential liabilities on the 55-mile route which would disrupt nearly 500 acres of wetlands.
VDOT to invest in secondary road maintenance. The highway agency admitted yesterday that only an estimated 58% of the state’s secondary roads are rated in fair or better condition, down from 65.8% in 2010, reports the Times-Dispatch. “The secondaries are deteriorating,” said chief engineer Garrett W. Moore. In years past, the state had concentrated on bringing up to standard interstates and primary roads, which together carry 78% of the state’s lane-miles of traffic. Now VDOT will focus on secondary roads. “We’re making up for nearly 20 years of not doing a lot,” Layne said.
Bacon’s Rebellion noted those same numbers in a March article about a Smart Growth America (SGA) report on the national scourge of maintenance under-funding. SGA revealed that VDOT had spent more than two-thirds of its funds on new construction between 2009 and 2011 while neglecting maintenance, allowing road conditions generally to deteriorate. SGA based its findings on Federal Highway Administration data but used a different methodology than VDOT to calculate maintenance and construction spending.
Charlottesville Bypass coming to a close. I have received word by means of a Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) press release that the CTB allocated $230 million to fund an alternative to the proposed Charlottesville Bypass that created such a furor in Central Virginia. The project package will create improvements to the congested U.S. 29 corridor north of the city by extending parallel roads that offer alternatives for local traffic, enhancing traffic light synchronization, creating an overpass at the U.S. 29/Rio Road intersection and making other spot improvements. There is no perfect solution but this is the best one available. It will reduce travel time for everyone using the congestion zone: local travelers as well as freight trucks passing through.
Bull in a china shop. Finally, there is this tidbit tacked onto the end of one of today’s Times-Dispatch articles based on emails the T-D scooped up in a Freedom of Information Act request. The emails shed light on decision-making process in the McDonnell administration to ram through spending on the U.S. 460 project before all necessary permits were obtained.
Then-Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton urged in an email last July that VDOT get permission to hire an outside lawyer and mount a public campaign to demonstrate why a supplemental environmental impact statement “is not needed or appropriate.”
“The message must be that the (Corps of Engineers) is trying to destroy Southside Virginia along the existing 460 and destroy the environment,” Connaughton said in an email to then-Deputy Transportation Commissioner Charles Kilpatrick on July 13.
The secretary further ordered Kilpatrick to solicit the support of communities and their local and regional officials. “We need their aggressive, negative reaction to the (Corps’) desire to destroy the towns along the existing 460,” he wrote.
Finally, Connaughton sought meetings with U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine, both Democrats, and Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-4th. “We must have them complaining to (the Corps regional office),” he said. “We need to move … quickly,” he concluded.