Locals want roads improved

Published 8:41 am Monday, February 8, 2016

Local representatives say Virginia’s new formula to score and prioritize road projects bilks rural areas like Lunenburg County.

As proof they point to the Route 675 — Hardy Road Improvement Project.

Locals want the project and see it as a priority.

But the project ranks near the bottom of the state’s priority list — 284th out of 287 statewide and 39th out of 39th in the district.

Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg whose district includes Lunenburg said this very situation is why he opposed the legislation that passed last year.

“The Commonwealth Transportation Board made the decision that congestion was a greater issue than safety,” Ruff said. “This will move district money to the suburban parts of the state. In our case in the Richmond District, this serves the areas of Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover better than Lunenburg, Mecklenburg,” and other rural localities.

That said, Ruff noted there isn’t anything that can be done to change the results.

“I still consider safety as the highest priority and will continue to have conversations with VDOT on this,” he said. “Route 675 is a dangerous road, but I see no way that they will seriously reconsider the first decision they made.”

In mid-January, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Virginia’s new data-driven prioritization process scored nearly 300 transportation projects proposed by localities and regional planning bodies across the state.

The scoring is a key part of a new law, known as House Bill 2, developed, state officials said, on a bipartisan basis to invest limited tax dollars in the right transportation projects.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne also released a list of recommended projects to be funded based on the results of the scores, which will be reviewed and considered by the Commonwealth Transportation Board over the next five months.

“This new law is revolutionizing the way transportation projects are selected,” Gov. McAuliffe said at the time.  “Political wish lists of the past are replaced with a data-driven process that is objective and transparent, making the best use of renewed state funding received in 2013 and the recently approved federal transportation funding.  Each project is scored based on its merits and value, making Virginia the first state in the nation to use such an outcome-based prioritization process.”

More than 130 localities and metropolitan planning organizations submitted proposed projects totaling nearly $7 billion in funding, to be scored under House Bill 2. About $1.7 billion is available.

Layne said the process was developed with ample opportunity for public review, with meetings held in several locations throughout the state, and the projects made available online.

“The prioritization process improves the transparency and accountability of Virginia’s transportation program,” Layne said. “Public engagement will continue through the spring prior to the CTB adopting the final six-year program in June.”

The law requires projects to be scored based on how they ease congestion, improve economic development, provide accessibility to jobs, improve safety and environmental quality, and support transportation-efficient land use, a state statement said.

Projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads score higher if they reduce congestion, while projects in other parts of the state score higher if they support economic development. State officials note they held numerous sessions with localities to incorporate their input in developing the scoring system.

The commonwealth Transportation board will seek input on recommended scenarios of funded projects during hearings in the spring, after which the board will determine which projects to fund and include in the six-year program.