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U.S. 58 bill would revive bonds for improvements
Lovers Leap would be top priority

Friday, January 11, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Improvements to the nearly 8-mile stretch of U.S. 58 between Stuart and Vesta — the area known as Lovers Leap — would move to the top of the priority list if legislators pass a bill proposed by Del. Charles Poindexter.

HB 1953 essentially would revive or re-enact a bond package and allow Virginia to borrow the amount it has repaid — about $300 million — to fund improvements to U.S. 58.

Alex Thorup, Poindexter’s legislative director, said the 7.8 miles from Stuart to Vesta would be at the top of the priority list if the bill is approved.

The U.S. 58 Corridor Development Program was approved during a special session of the General Assembly in 1989. At the time, legislators also approved a $704,300,000 bond package to fund four-laning, widening and other road improvement projects on the highway that spanned southern Virginia.

In 1999, a $104.3 million increase was enacted, and $82 million of that was to be used for work on parts of U.S. 58 through Lee and Washington counties, according to the proposal.

“The problem was we looked up and found ourselves in a position where we didn’t have the resources to finish the project and, the way the bond package was written, we couldn’t get any more money,” Thorup said.

The bond package has not been re-enacted, and funds for the project dried up in 2002, according to previous reports.

Since then, legislators have relied on earmarks to pay for improvements to certain parts of the road while continuing to pay down the more than $700 million debt, according to Thorup and previous reports. About $300 million of that bond debt has been repaid, he added.

However, because of the way the bond package was written, Virginia “has been unable to re-borrow” those funds, and as it now stands, the entire amount would have to be repaid and another loan made before funds would be available for the road work, Thorup said.

Poindexter’s proposal would allow Virginia to “re-borrow” up to $704 million — the amount of the original bond package, he said.

“We have kind of tagged Lovers Leap as the first project we would want” to complete, Thorup said of the project that has an estimated cost of $272 million.

If the $300 million is re-borrowed, the state could repay it, and according to Poindexter’s proposal, continue to re-borrow to fund other work on U.S. 58 as the debt is paid down, he said.

“It would be similar to a revolving” loan, and is designed “so that we will eventually get” all of the improvement projects to U.S. 58 completed, he said.

The proposal was awaiting a vote in the Appropriations Committee on Thursday, but Thorup said “it will be a tough bill to get through because the state is right up to its debt capacity right now.”

“Whenever you talk about re-borrowing money, people get concerned about the debt capacity,” he said. “We will need to” address those concerns with the Secretary of Finance.


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