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Small improvements will be visible with new transportation plan, but major projects require a long, long view.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Tracing Dana Martin’s nearly 10 years on the Commonwealth Transportation Board draws a pretty good map of the rough economic road and tight political turns Virginia has taken through most of a decade.
To arrive, at last, back near the starting point.
In all those years, Martin never missed a meeting as Salem District representative on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s administrative policy-making board — remarkable for a board that meets almost monthly — and he says he devoted 15 to 20 hours a week on commission business. Such dedication is exemplary.
And it allows him to take a long view of projects that might be coming down the road in the Roanoke and New River valleys, and how the district’s needs and wants can be expected to fit into the state’s overall transportation system.
Reporter Jeff Sturgeon’s interview with Martin in Sunday’s Business section offers his assessment of the impact of the General Assembly’s long stalemate over new transportation revenue on a growing list of unmet needs, and of the effect this year’s historic transportation deal will — and will not — have.
Martin recalled that the money the transportation board could allot fell drastically over the decade of his tenure, though VDOT records show it went up and down throughout the period. As he noted, it started to rebound in the Six-Year Plan approved in June, just before his term expired, to $9 billion — then $11.5 billion in the 2014 Six-Year Plan.
The infusion of dollars means there will be some money to do more than the bare minimum VDOT has been able to do for years: take care of safety issues the department flagged as potentially catastrophic if the state failed to address them.
But no end-to-end upgrade of Interstate 81 is on the horizon. And as for seeing a new Interstate 73 from Roanoke to the North Carolina line? “It’s like hope and prayer on that. . . . It’s something that would be crucial for the depressed area down around Henry County, and even parts of it would help them. . . . My belief is because it is such a valuable and, I think, necessary thing that it will not go away.”
Just don’t expect it in the next decade. Or two. By 2050, anyway.
In the meantime, expect spot improvements to U.S. 220 to be made “as funding permits.”
So, what is the likely impact of the new transportation act?
“It actually means we’re back to where we should have been six years or so ago. . . . It means we can go ahead and prevent some future safety issues and address a little bit of congestion. . . .
“So 220 is like every other road in the state. It won’t get what it ideally needs, but it won’t have to get worse either.”
Not losing more ground counts as progress, of a sort.
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