Area starts to see benefit from transportation bill

Posted: November 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

Virginia’s controversial transportation package is providing an additional $6.2 million for preliminary engineering work on I-81 at the Millwood Pike/Millwood Avenue interchange. This view looks southeast. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The effects of the transportation bill passed by the General Assembly this year should soon be evident on the region’s roads.

Terry Jackson, assistant district administrator for planning and investment in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Staunton District, wrote in an email that funding for the first five years of the department’s Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP) has grown to $407 million this year from $205 million in fiscal year 2013.

The $202 million boost nearly doubled the budget for SYIP work, and a significant chunk of that money is allocated to Northern Shenandoah Valley projects.

“We didn’t have sustainable funding for transportation,” Randy Kiser, administrator for the Staunton District, said Wednesday. “Projects in our six-year plan now have funding.”

The transportation bill was highly controversial because, through a combination of tax eliminations and tax hikes, it amounted to a tax increase. The bill was approved with bipartisan support.

Critics assailed the legislation as the largest tax increase in the state’s history, and many incumbent lawmakers were attacked politically for having supported it. Some delegates were defeated in primary or general elections by opponents who hammered them for that vote.

The new money available because of the bill, Jackson wrote, has allowed regional bridge and repavement projects to proceed earlier than they would have.

The big winner in the Northern Shenandoah Valley was the $74.6 million project to replace the U.S. 340/U.S. 522 bridge that carries vehicles to and from Front Royal over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

An extra $52.3 million was provided, Jackson wrote, which allowed construction bids to be solicited, and a contract should be executed soon. Work likely will begin early next year and be completed by fall 2017.

“All the design work was done, all the right of way acquisition was done,” Kiser said of the bridge project. “But we didn’t have enough money to move forward with construction.”

Nearly $12 million will benefit projects planned for Frederick County.

The one that will result in roadway changes the soonest is $5.7 million for lane rehabilitation work on southbound lanes of Interstate 81 between mile markers 317 and 313. A Chilhowie company has been awarded the contract for that work as well as portions of Shenandoah and Augusta counties and is scheduled to complete the project by July 15, 2015.

VDOT planned to repave that area this year with highway maintenance funds, Jackson wrote, but the additional SYIP money will allow it to do a “longer-lasting pavement rehabilitation.”

An additional $6.2 million also was provided for preliminary engineering work on I-81 Exit 313, the interchange at Millwood Pike and Millwood Avenue (U.S. 17/U.S. 50/U.S. 522). That study, Jackson wrote, which likely wouldn’t have happened for at least six years without the extra money the transportation bill provided, has begun.

Two SYIP efforts in Frederick County are slated to be advertised in FY15, which begins July 1, Jackson indicated. They are:

Improvements to I-81 Exit 310, estimated to cost $47.9 million. Construction is scheduled to be advertised in October 2014.

Martinsburg Pike (U.S. 11) and Welltown Road (Route 661) turn-lane improvements between I-81 and Va. 37.

Localities won’t just benefit from having additional money for six-year plan projects.

Jackson wrote that new money is available for VDOT’s interstate and primary pavement, which will allow maintenance funding to be used to resurface secondary roads. During the recent recession, money normally used to resurface secondary roads was diverted to interstate and primary paving projects.

“Next year,” Kiser said, “we’re going to double the amount of pavement we do in all 11 of our (Staunton District) jurisdictions.”

Beginning in FY17, both men indicated, the state construction formula will funnel money into the department’s secondary and urban programs. Localities can spend those funds on their priorities.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com