Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Commonwealth Transportation Board OKs $3 million for Roanoke culvert

Amtrak in Lynchburg

Amtrak in Lynchburg

MORE information from Ms. McCarthy added and comment from city manager Chris Morrill:

A call from Lynne McCarthy, Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator at the Department of Rail and Public Transportation just now confirmed that the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted and approved $3 million dollars or half of the cost for replacing the culvert to support the weight of a passenger rail train.

Later Ms. McCarthy added that the vote was unanimous for the $3 million and Roanoke City can expect the funds July 1.

The DRPT has agreed to provide up to $3 million towards the project which is about half of the current estimated cost of the culvert improvement project estimated by the city at $6.1 million.

Within the Six Year Improvement Program, funding is provided for the culvert work and necessary rail track improvements Lynchburg to and including Roanoke, station platform, and train servicing facilities.”

Fixing the culvert can’t wait and Roanoke City Council allocated $6 million in its Capital Improvement Project plan for 2014 and 2015.

Mayor David Bowers has lobbied for it. He even pressed Senator Tim Kaine on a visit to the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce to put in a word for help.

The city has had to forgo other capital projects for the fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to take on the extra $6 million in debt. The Round Hill Elementary School expansion was one of the projects put off. Parks and Recreation and a new fire station took a hit too.

City manager Chris Morrill said: “We just found out that the CTB did officially include the $3 million for the culvert — great news.  The Department of Rail and Public Transportation, led by Thelma Drake, has been a great partner and champion of passenger rail to Roanoke.

In terms of the impact on our capital plan, Morrill said in an email:

Council amended the out years of the five year capital plan for three new projects:  $2 million for broadband, $6 million for the culvert, and an additional $3.5 million for schools.  To provide these additional funds, planned debt issuance was reduced for Parks and Recreation Master Plan, Civic Center Improvements, and Street Scape  projects.  Also, we did not include funding as desired for replacement of Fire-EMS Station 7 on Memorial Avenue.

The $3 million from the state does not impact planned capital funding for the 2013/14 fiscal year so revisions to the CIP to account for this reduction in local capital funding would most likely be done by City Council as part of the 2014/15 budget and capital plan preparation.

On May 9 the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce held a luncheon where Thelma Drake, Director of Virginia’s Department of Rail & Public Transportation went over Virginia passenger rail from “A to Z.”

“We have a great working relationship with Amtrak … Norfolk Southern has been such a great partner,” said Drake.

Roanoke can expect passenger rail in 3-4 years she said. Project design began in January on the location of the passenger rail station platform and train track and signal work at a cost of $600,000.

Roanoke Passenger Train Platform location

Roanoke Passenger Train Platform location

“The railroad industry is the most capital intensive industry in the world.” It will take 30 minutes for the train to complete what Senator John Edwards called a “Y” turn by pulling up to about the Martin Luther King, Jr. bridge then backing up in the “Y” between the Taubman Museum and I-581 then coming out going east and backing up again to the MLK bridge. All this would be done at night.

The Marketplace Fairness Act (internet sales tax) passed the Senate and hopefully will pass the House. It’s passage will add $20 million to the Transportation Trust Fund and rail gets 17% of that. Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee has said, ” While it attempts to make tax collection simpler, it still has a long way to go.”

If the MFA fails in the House the wholesale tax on gas will go from 3.5 percent to 5.1 percent to make up for the shortfall. Sen. Edwards said if that happens though consumers will not notice the change at the gas pump. He expects the same with the elimination of the gas tax. “The dealer sets the price of gas on a supply and demand basis.”

After Roanoke the next project will extend passenger rail to Bristol and to Richmond. Rail to Richmond would either be a route from Lynchburg to Charlottesville then down I-95 or would go from Lynchburg straight across to Richmond.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Community, Local Events

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