This could prove to be a critical week for transportation issues in Hampton Roads as the Commonwealth Transportation Board considers a plan to strip the region of funding for interstate construction in 2011 and receives its final report on the July 2 flooding at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
The board, which meets Wednesday and Thursday, is poised to give the region no money at all for interstate construction in fiscal 2011, which is partially a response to the state's multibillion-dollar budget shortfall. Several members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, including the organization's Executive Director Dwight Farmer, say such a move is unprecedented.
An analysis of the cuts conducted by the planning organization found that Northern Virginia will receive 66.5 percent of interstate funds over the course of the plan while Hampton Roads, the state's second-most populous region, will receive 15 percent. Several projects were zeroed out, including funding to widen badly congested areas of Interstate 64 on the Peninsula.
Aubrey Layne, who is a regional member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and will vote on the new plan Thursday, said Hampton Roads needs funding. "I think we need to get more money to the interstate," Layne said.
Layne and Dana Dickens, the region's other representative, said it was unlikely that significant changes would be made to the draft amendment. They both stressed that while the cuts were painful, Hampton Roads still receives a large amount of money for maintenance and repair and a large amount of federal stimulus funding.
"You have to look at all the pots of money to get a fair picture of Hampton Roads," Layne said.
On Wednesday, the members of HRTPO's board, which include local elected officials, will meet to discuss how the cuts will affect the region. Layne expects to attend the meeting before driving to Richmond for the CTB session, where amendments to the six-year plan will be debated.
Dickens said board members typically reach consensus before votes. He declined to say how he would vote on the plan. Although Dickens is from Hampton Roads, he is an at-large member of the board. He says he has to consider things as they affect the state as a whole. Dickens said the most important thing he was looking for was if the final amendment "is considered by all to be fair to Hampton Roads and to the rest of Virginia as well."
"I'm not looking exclusively at Hampton Roads as my responsibility, but equity is an important piece," he said.
Also being discussed at this meeting will be the final report commissioned by the Virginia Department of Transportation on the flooding of the HRBT on July 2. VDOT has acknowledged that internal "personnel issues" have taken place as a result of the incident but the report is expected to outline individual action plans to respond to future incidents.
VDOT also will disclose to the board its plans to reduce its staff as mandated by the state. The department has to drop its staffing level to 7,500 employees by July 2010. Lauren Hansen, a spokeswoman for VDOT, said she did not have a full tally of employees due to restructuring but that the department was "close" to reaching the desired number.
Layne said the board was unlikely to take any action regarding high-speed rail plans.
About the different transportation plans •The Six-Year Improvement Program is the state's outline of transportation funding for localities. The numbers are subject to change depending on budgetary issues. • The 20-year Long Term Transportation Plan, generated by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, is a regional vision for its transportation needs. The plan is mandated by the federal government.