- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — The Virginia Department of Transportation has flagged $602 million in highway projects that could be eliminated from the state’s six-year construction plan, which takes effect July 1.

“Obviously, with the need to cut $1.3 billion in funding for the six years, additional reductions will need to be made,” warned VDOT Chief Financial Officer Barbara W. Reese.

The proposed early round of cuts would affect 186 projects. It would eliminate road construction and safety improvements, postpone work and delay payments on completed jobs.

VDOT officials attributed the cuts to the state budget’s lack of new money for transportation.

VDOT already has canceled a $55 million, 60-mile pavement rehabilitation for Interstate 64 from Richmond to Newport News, citing tight funding. It had been aimed at fixing the road in time for the Jamestown quadricentennial in 2007.

“Our program isn’t even close to being able to use the words ‘going forward,’” said state Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet. “It is the beginning stages of a wind-down program.”

Among spending reductions being considered:

• $3.8 million toward widening 4.6 miles of I-64 to eight lanes east of Interstate 295 in Henrico and New Kent counties.

• $64 million to start work on high-occupancy vehicle lanes linking Interstates 95 and 395 and the Capital Beltway through the Springfield Interchange.

• $16.7 million for a highway in Norfolk connecting Interstate 564 to the Norfolk International Terminals and the naval station.

• $19.9 million for the U.S. 460 Virginia-Kentucky Connector from the Kentucky line to the Coalfield Expressway in Buchanan County.

Although the Commonwealth Transportation Board will make the final decision on the shape of the six-year plan, the proposed cuts “are a very good indication of things that will not get done,” Mr. Shucet said.

Also among the possible cuts are delays in paying off construction deficits on 19 projects in the program. Previous administrations had approved building projects worth more money than the state had allocated.

Though the projects have been completed, the state is still making adjustments within VDOT’s budget to pay for them. As the state delays paying off construction bills, even less money will be available to deal with rising highway needs.

The proposed list of cuts will get bigger, said VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Neale.

VDOT has an annual budget of about $3.4 billion. To reach the needed $1.3 billion in cuts, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will have to reduce its draft $7.2 billion, six-year highway program of nearly 1,700 projects by about 18 percent.

The board is scheduled to approve the final — and reduced — construction program June 17.

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