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VDOT: Think bigger on I-73
Agency: Funding chances better if plans are expanded
Sunday, March 10, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Enlarging the 6.5-mile section of Interstate 73 identified as a priority by the Henry County Board of Supervisors may give the project a better chance of getting funds, according to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials.
A recently approved county resolution asks VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to start and fund the first leg of I-73. The 6.5-mile section from the Patriot Centre industrial park to the U.S. 58 bypass was identified in the resolution as the first priority project.
But the 6.5-mile prioritized section must be “part of a larger section that is either in the works or planned” to be considered to receive a federal earmark, Jason Bond of VDOT said.
Bond, who is the communications manager for the Salem District of VDOT, along with Robert Cary, district administrator; Thomas Digiulian, assistant district administrator; and Lisa Price-Hughes, resident engineer, recently discussed the I-73 project in depth.
Bond said the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) looks at projects to “ensure there is connectivity” so the section of road being built would connect with another portion and/or function independently “as a link in the overall chain.”
Digiulian suggested adding another approximately 10 miles to the priority section to connect it to U.S. 220, even though doing so will add to the cost of the project. No cost estimate was available.
The added segment would start at the northern part of the section listed as the county’s priority (the Patriot Centre) and continue for roughly for 10 miles to connect to U.S. 220 in Franklin County, according to Bond and Digiulian.
VDOT officials encouraged local officials and residents to consider those factors when advocating for funds.
The 6.5-mile stretch of road is estimated to cost a total of $390 million, he added.
Engineering work on the section has “a very preliminary estimate of $39 million,” Bond said. Another $25 million is required to buy property needed for right of way acquisitions and to relocate affected owners/businesses. An additional $326 million is needed to build the 6.5-mile section, he added.
But other than $8.5 million in congressional earmarks that only can be spent on actual construction, Bond said there is no significant funding for the project.
VDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration to see if the money can be spent on the engineering phase of the project, Bond said.
If that is approved, and according to the preliminary estimates needed for the section, “there is a significant difference in what the county would like to see prioritized and what we have available,” he said.
To complicate matters, if VDOT spends the federal funds on the engineering work, “we would have to make a commitment as a state that funds” to begin acquiring rights-of-way would be available and completed within 10 years, or repay the federal funds, Bond said.
At this point, “what we have is a” 600-feet wide corridor for the new interstate, Bond said.
He explained that only 150 to 200 feet is “where the road will actually be.” The additional space is needed to allow for variances of the road, he added.
Officials know the interstate will be within that 600-foot corridor, “but we don’t know exactly where or specific impacts yet” on property in that corridor, he said.
Those details will not be known until there is funding for the engineering work, which includes the design of the highway and shows “what the road will actually look like,” he said.
Until that work is completed, Bond said VDOT “is still not to the point that we can answer” questions about the impact construction may have on property owners.
For those who live or own property in the corridor and wonder about making improvements, Bond said “we encourage people not to put those improvements on hold because of I-73.”
Property/home owners “would be compensated” if improvements are made and the highway project impacts the improved property, Bond said.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board will meet this spring to receive public input on which projects to fund. The CTB then will make funding decisions based on the input and other factors.
“I think it is critically important that people understand that I-73 will have to compete for funding with many other pressing needs across the entire state,” Cary said, and noted there are many needs on other roadways, including interstates 81 and 64.
“Everyone sees needs all over,” Cary said.
The CTB only has access to “one finite pot of money. It’s not an easy competition, but I think that the county saying what priority is and having a sustained focus will be important” in the future of the project, Cary said.
“We don’t know yet, but I think I-73 has the potential to be one of those projects,” Bond said. “Even if we do receive funding for I-73, the phases to develop the project will take years. Even if funding were here, it takes time to get through.”