Friday, May 10, 2013

Half the cost for the $6 million culvert may be on its way


It’s possible Roanoke City will know in June whether the state will pay half of the cost for replacing the culvert to support the weight of the passenger train, said Senator John Edwards.

When the Commonwealth Transportation Board meets in June they will make the decision to help Roanoke City by paying $3 million dollars of the $6.1 million to fix it. Fixing the culvert is not an option.

Mayor David Bowers has lobbied for it. He even pressed Senator Tim Kaine on his visit last week to put in a word for help. The city has had to forgo other capital projects for the fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to afford 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.

Sen. Edwards also said everyone has assumed that the train would go through Bedford and follow Route 460. “I’m not sure if they’ve fully resolved that,” he said.

Thelma Drake, Director of Virginia's Department of Rail & Public Transportation

Thelma Drake, Director of Virginia’s Department of Rail & Public Transportation

Thursday 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.”


There will be no getting off one train to wait for another. The seat you sit in when you get on will be your seat to your destination. “We have a great working relationship with Amtrak … Norfolk Southern has been such a great partner,” said Drake.

The goal is to increase train speed incrementally. Planned high speed trains in Virginia will travel at a maximum speed of 110 mph, and maximum speeds will be limited to 79-90 mph in populated areas and commingled freight corridors. “You don’t start at zero and go to 150 mph,” said Drake.

$100 million has been appropriated in the state’s budget for Norfolk Southern track improvements. Virginia is one of the only states with a passenger rail dedicated fund. “We’re being applauded all around the country.”

There are a lot of things to be resolved yet. With railroads that never happens overnight. “It’s a long process – it’s very complicated,” said Sen. Edwards.

“The railroad industry is the most capital intensive industry in the world.” It will take 30 minutes for the train to complete what 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.

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.

Mayor Bowers questioned if it would be a good idea to initiate bus service from outlying areas like Martinsville and Clifton Forge to access the passenger train. That would be a local Metro decision said Drake.

Drake was asked about the intermodal freight transfer station and it’s status off I-81 in Elliston. Norfolk Southern is continuing to buy property. Dan Motley, of the Norfolk Southern Corporation and Chamber Chair said last week with Sen. Tim Kaine that they just don’t have customers lined up asking to build it.

“I think the way we’re going to find the customers is for all of us to put our heads together. We can’t expect Norfolk Southern to build it and spend taxpayer dollars and not have the customers,” said Drake There is no money set aside for it at the moment but there is funding in the six-year plan she said.

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. 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.”

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Local Events

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