Portions of major highway projects in northern, central and Tidewater Virginia were completed in the first quarter of this year, easing travel for thousands.
At the Springfield Interchange, a second exit lane on an interstate 95 flyover opened in September, months ahead of schedule, making it easier for motorists to descend from the ramp directly onto I-95.
In Portsmouth, a portion of the Western Freeway on the Pinners Point project opened in late September, providing motorists direct access to and from the Midtown Tunnel on I-164 and removing truck traffic from the nearby historic Port Norfolk neighborhood.
In metropolitan Richmond, another section of Route 288 was opened to connect Route 6 in Goochland County with Route 60 in Chesterfield County. Route 288 provides a partial beltway around the region.
Private-sector proposals for future construction were also advanced.
VDOT is asking private firms if they are interested in the possibility of entering into a public-private partnership to improve the Midtown Tunnel in the Hampton Roads region and to build the Western Transportation Corridor in the northern Virginia region.
VDOT is seeking private-sector interest on the projects by posting a “Request for Information” on the agency’s Web site and in various publications.
Request for Information projects include:
• Midtown Tunnel –– a new tunnel to ensure a continuous, four-lane crossing linking Route 58 between Portsmouth and Norfolk.
• Western Transportation Corridor –– a new road that would extend generally from I-95 in Stafford County north to Route 7 in Loudoun County.
VDOT will consider responses to the requests and determine whether to solicit conceptual proposals under the Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). The PPTA is the legislative framework that allows VDOT to enter into agreements authorizing private entities to acquire, build and maintain or operate transportation facilities.
Neither of these projects can be built unless they are part of a federally approved environmental study under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
VDOT has also entered into negotiations with Fluor Daniel for a comprehensive agreement to improve the Capital Beltway (I-495) in northern Virginia under the PPTA.
Fluor Daniel proposes to build two high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in each direction on a 14-mile segment of the Capital Beltway, from north of the Springfield Interchange to north of the Dulles Toll Road.
According to the proposal, HOT lanes would be free to carpoolers, buses and emergency vehicles; cars carrying only one or two people would pay a variable toll to use the lanes. Large trucks would not be allowed to use HOT lanes.
“I have reached a decision to enter into negotiations after careful review of the PPTA advisory panel’s recommendation and all supporting documents,” said VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet. “VDOT and the private sector are moving forward to improve traffic flow on the heavily congested beltway. The private sector is able to share in the risk of funding this project, which otherwise would be practically impossible if VDOT had to rely on traditional funding sources to improve the beltway.”
Shucet is keeping open the option of including the construction of Phase 8 of the Springfield Interchange and having the private sector take over toll operations and maintenance as part of the comprehensive agreement. The project will be coordinated with Maryland and the Federal Highway Administration.
While the private sector would bear much of the financial risk of improving I-495, Shucet said that Fluor Daniel will explore options to further reduce, if not possibly eliminate, the state’s share in financing the project.
“This has the potential of being the most successful PPTA project Virginia has ever undertaken because the private sector is willing to take a substantial share of the financial risk and possibly all of the risk to improve mobility on I-495,” added Shucet.
A schedule is being worked out for negotiations. Should they be successful, a comprehensive agreement would follow. The agreement would set the framework for future decisions on the project, such as design and construction.
No improvements can be made to the beltway unless they are part of a federally approved environmental impact study. An independent review of possible improvements to the Capital Beltway is under way. The environmental study is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.
In Hampton Roads, VDOT has received unsolicited competing proposals under PPTA to design, build, finance and operate a new crossing of the Hampton Roads waterways. The department is evaluating the proposals.
Quarterly Report Card
For construction projects scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of fiscal year 2005 (July - September), VDOT finished 68 percent on time, and 88 percent within budget.
In terms of all projects scheduled to be completed over the entire fiscal year, VDOT completed 37 percent on time in the first quarter, already beating last fiscal year’s total performance of 36 percent.
“Three months into the new fiscal year and we’ve already set a new performance record for ourselves,” said Shucet, “And, we’re on track to meet or beat our FY05 goal of completing 60 percent of our projects on-time this year. Every step we take over the remaining three quarters of the year only pushes the bar higher.”
VDOT’s definition of “on time” means that a project is finished on the original contract completion date, regardless of any justified extensions such as bad weather or other legitimate reasons. This is the strictest definition of “on time” of any state department of transportation, Shucet said.