Widening eight miles of the most congested stretches of I-64 on the Peninsula was one of three transportation projects that won state approval Wednesday.
A trio of transportation improvements for Hampton Roads made it into the state’s updated $13.1 billion, six-year spending plan, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Wednesday.
According to the governor’s office, the Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved long-awaited plans to widen an eight-mile stretch of Interstate 64 on the Peninsula, the extension of light rail into Virginia Beach, as well as additional passenger rail options between Richmond and Norfolk.
McAuliffe Wednesday commended the transportation board for its amped-up efforts to include the public in the discourse that prefaced Wednesday’s vote.
Since the board’s draft program became available in April, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne and CTB board members have held hearings in nine regions across the commonwealth, where they solicited input from the public.
“Nearly 400 people attended and 1,620 oral and written comments were collected,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “From that information, the CTB adjusted the program to reflect the needs and priorities of local officials, residents and the traveling public who use and know their transportation system better than anyone else.”
While Wednesday’s vote may have been unanimous, not every project won unanimous support from the public.
Plans like the $144 million widening of I-64 have had broad appeal for years, while others, such as the plan to extend Norfolk’s light-rail system into Virginia Beach, estimated to run anywhere from $250 million to $320 million, have become political hot potatoes locally.
Under the terms of the state’s plan, the commonwealth will fund up to $155 million of the total cost of the project to extend Norfolk’s Tide light-rail system to Town Center. The plan leaves the Beach on the line for roughly half the cost of the project, which has led a number of residents and officials to decry the plan a potential money pit for the city.
Since the commonwealth announced its support for light rail extension earlier this year, the city has continued to weigh its options on the matter.
On the state’s side, a new timeline for the updated projects in the six-year program will be updated later this year to comply with a new prioritization process, signed into law this past April. Under the new guidelines, projects will be selected based on regional needs.
Layne added, “There will be no special governor’s list of projects, but rather a strategic transportation program based on selecting the right projects that provide the maximum benefit for limited tax dollars.”
The CTB will work in collaboration with localities to set weights for key factors like congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality. Specific projects will then be screened and selected for funding beginning in July 2016.
Other project highlights from Wednesday’s vote include:
Making safety improvements and repairs along Interstate 81, including Exit 14 in Abingdon and Exit 150 in Roanoke
Improving Route 220 in Botetourt County
Developing improvements to Interstate 66, extending the use of shoulders on Interstate 495 and tie-in to the Express Lanes and improving the Route 28 interchange in Northern Virginia
Widening Route 7 over the Dulles Toll Road
Funding improvements in the Metro 2025 program, including upgrades for 8-car trains along the Metrorail Orange line
Expanding VRE platforms and adding the VRE Potomac Shores station in Prince William County
Providing a package of improvements to Route 29 through Charlottesville, which replaces the bypass