Saturday, October 29, 2005

Rt. 58 Completion, "Now Or Never"

According to a story by Nancy Lindsey in the Stuart Enterprise, Whitt Clement, former Secretary of Transportation says U.S. Rt.58 must be funded now, or accept it as completed.

A link to the Enterprise article.

Articles in the on-line version of the Stuart Enterprise dissapear the following week, therefore the entire article appears below.
Clement: 2006 is the year to push for Rt. 58 funds
By Nancy Lindsey;
Former Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement told the Patrick County Board of Supervisors Monday night that finding funds to complete the four-laning of U.S. Rt. 58 is crucial to keeping the project alive.
There are currently no funds in the Virginia Department of Transportation budget to complete the highway, Clement said, and "no more bonds can be sold."
If the lack of funds is not addressed by the General Assembly, the project's completion is not just 10 to 15 years away, Clement said, "right now it's never."
"It's important that we stay the course and keep the momentum going," he said.
Clement was recently hired by the Patrick County Economic Development Authority, with the backing of several localities along Rt. 58, to lobby for new funds in the 2006 General Assembly.
"It's an assignment I gladly accept," Clement said. "I have a lot of enthusiasm and passion for seeing the late Speaker A.L. Philpott's legacy fulfilled," Clement said. Philpott and other legislators established the Rt. 58 Corridor Program in 1989 with the goal of widening and improving the road from the Tidewater area to the far Southwest Virginia mountains.
"With Gov. Warner's budget surplus and an improving economy, there's no question there are more general funds than there were in the past," Clement said. "Of course there are many demands on the additional revenue, but now is the time to go back to the General Assembly and push to authorize additional bonds to be supported with general funds to pay the debt service."
Clement said if $100 million is needed to pay for part of the construction project, there would need to be $10 million in bonds. Supporters of the initiative should also factor in the probability that an allocation of $100 million would not necessarily go solely toward construction "on this side of the mountain," but might have to be shared for uncompleted Rt. 58 work in other areas of Southwest Virginia, Clement said.
Larry Dickenson, president of Branch Highways, the contractor building the Meadows of Dan Bypass, said the estimated cost of completing Rt. 58 from the end of the Stuart Bypass to Interstate 77 in Hillsville is about $320 million. The estimated cost of building the road from Stuart to the top of Lovers' Leap Mountain is $100 million, Dickenson said.
Without going the bond route, Clement said, Rt. 58 would have to compete for funds with other roads in the Salem District, such as U.S. 220. They would also have to compete with Northern Virginia and other heavily populated areas for transportation funds, he said.
It's hard to compete with the high traffic counts and congestion of highways in the urban areas of the state, Clement said. "But it's not about congestion, it's about economic development, bringing more jobs and opportunities to the region."
Clement said he will work with Gov. Mark Warner's office to try to get funds to support Rt. 58 in Warner's two-year budget proposal.
"I think there's going to be a big push this winter for transportation in general," Clement said. "There's an effort in the Senate to take general fund dollars for transportation. We've got to have somebody at the table to make sure we get some of the general fund dollars, in addition to keeping the fire lit on the need for 58."
Clement said "nobody has a dog in this fight except Southwest and Southside legislators," who should cooperate as a regional coalition to win.
EDA chairman Glenn Roycroft, who spearheaded the drive to hire Clement, said in an Oct. 18 letter to Clement that Patrick County EDA is the coordinator for the lobbying effort.
"To date, we have $29,000 in pledges from both public and private entities," Roycroft wrote. "...The ultimate goal of Patrick County and supporters of this effort is to work towards establishing a schedule to complete Rt. 58 no later than 2015."
Roycroft said Monday night that the EDA had received pledges totaling $30,000, the fee Clement is charging. Those pledges include $3,000 from the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and similar amounts from Carroll County, Henry County, and the town of Hillsville, Roycroft said. Floyd and Pittsylvania Counties endorsed the project but did not commit funds, he said.
Members of the board of supervisors commended Roycroft on his initiative and thanked Clement for accepting the challenge.
Others attending the meeting included members of the EDA, several business representatives, Del. Ward Armstrong, and county administrators from Carroll and Pittsylvania Counties.

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