NEW KENT, Va. (AP) Amid budget cuts and layoffs of state government workers, the Virginia Department of Transportation is pressing ahead with construction of a $7.1 million rest stop on Interstate 64.
The 11,000-square-foot building on the eastbound side of I-64 in New Kent County is slated for completion in the summer. When finished, it will be the second-costliest rest area in the state, topped only by an $8.1 million rest area and welcome center on Interstate 85 at the North Carolina line, near Mecklenburg County.
Critics say the high cost and palatial design of the New Kent facility, a Colonial-style building that resembles the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, are signs of misplaced priorities on the part of Virginia transportation authorities.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board, which tells VDOT how it can spend taxpayer money, awarded the contract to design and build the New Kent rest area in June. That was the same month the board voted to eliminate 166 road-building projects from its six-year plan.
The rest area was approved at a time when VDOT was so strapped for cash it had asked contractors to suspend voluntarily three dozen highway projects to balance its books and had to allocate $142 million from its road-construction program to fix potholes and pay for other maintenance work. Some VDOT critics wonder why the transportation agency is spending so much money on opulent sanitary accommodations when it is having a hard time paying for new roads.
“Until VDOT can get its act together, why give them $7 million” to build a new rest area, asked Sanford Pankin of Hampton. “Would you give Enron more money?”
Mr. Pankin, a leader of a grass-roots coalition that helped defeat a referendum last month that would have raised taxes to fund local highway projects, is convinced that the public’s lack of confidence in VDOT was a factor in the initiative’s defeat. He said the agency has for years been plagued by ineptitude and mismanagement.
When the budget-cutters began lopping projects from VDOT’s master plan, the New Kent comfort station was the only one to survive, said Cyndi Ward, the VDOT official in charge of the agency’s rest areas.
The new rest stop will have an enclosed vending center with tables, space for a State Police office, fiber-optic cable, a multiuse restroom, a computer room and an enclosed lobby containing travel and tourism information.
Miss Ward said the New Kent center survived the budget-cutters’ ax because it is one of the busiest in Virginia, handling more visitors than the westbound station on the same stretch of highway, and the only state rest area for travelers exiting from Interstate 295 onto I-64 east headed for Hampton Roads.
VDOT officials had planned to raze and rebuild the westbound rest area in similar fashion, but that was before the agency’s six-year plan underwent major surgery.
The more modest, 2,300-square-foot westbound station reopened for business in September after being closed for more than a year. It was shut when its sewage system began to fail, said Robert Prezioso, VDOT’s engineer for New Kent County.
The design for the center was done by Dayton, Thompson & Associates of Richmond, which also drafted the plans for the I-85 rest area welcome center and included many of the same design features as the New Kent facility.