Military bases often dictate the marching orders of the economy in the state of Virginia. A failing credit market, however, is giving the commonwealth a pair of flat feet when it comes to improving transportation.
Plans to expand an aggressive high-occupancy toll (HOT) project on I-395 and I-95 in Virginia have been temporarily detonated by community concerns and a failing credit market. The state’s transportation secretary, Pierce Homer, informed those involved in the public-private partnership, namely Fluor-Transurban, of the pause, stating in a letter that borrowing money in recession-racked financial markets was a daunting challenge. The total price tag of the I-395/95 work had not yet been determined.
“It is not a good time to be taking a private financing for infrastructure to the marketplace right now,” Homer told Roads & Bridges. “The credit markets are still extremely weak, and as the cost of capital goes up you get less projects.”
The overall support of the project, however, has not been any more confusing than since the announcement of the postponement of the I-395/95 job. Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay told the Washington Post, “pulling the plug on a project of this magnitude is a mistake.” But Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County board, took a far different tone.
“It’s not surprising [to hear of the delay] in this environment for a project that I would say is probably marginal to start with,” he told the Post. “I don’t think this project has been entirely well thought through.”
Homer did not think the planning timeline could be any more extensive. According to the transportation secretary, the I-395/95 project has been part of the region’s long-range plan for several years.
“Any big project has fans as well as detractors,” he added. “There are a number of supervisors that are very supportive of the project.”
It is also hard to ignore the influence of Virginia’s military bases. Homer said there are 90,000 Department of Defense jobs in the I-395/95 corridor, creating a difficult commute under the current layout.
“One of the things we have to do to help maintain national security as well as the employment base in Virginia is to do a better job of getting people in and out of these military bases,” said Homer.
When Virginia will recommit to the HOT lanes endeavor has not been determined. Homer said a major determinant will be the recovery of the financial markets, but there also are community issues to be resolved. Perhaps the most pressing concern involves neighborhood traffic issues. Virginia follows traditional interstate standards that call to go one control signal out from an interstate interchange, and there have been concerns that traffic overflow will disrupt the rhythm of local streets.
“We agreed to look at that in a little more depth and detail,” said Homer.
All is not lost for Virginia. Two heavy-hitting projects are currently under way involving the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Rail. According to Homer, just under $1 billion in toll road revenue bonds were sold the week of Aug. 10 to support the development of the transit project.