Money is lined up for HRBT expansion

Hampton Roads’ regional transportation funding agency has a plan in hand to pay for the $3.8 billion project to add a third tube to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, the area’s worst traffic bottleneck.

A six-year financial plan drafted this summer shows 90 percent of the project cost will be covered by June 30, 2023, according to documents presented before the Hampton City Council’s work session Wednesday.

The rest will be covered in time for the project to be delivered on schedule in 2024, said Kevin Page, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission. That last year is outside the scope of the commission’s rolling six-year plan for now.

The money flow that makes this possible is the $160 million to $185 million a year that the commission expects to come in over the next six years from a 0.7 percent regional sales tax surcharge and 2.1 percent regional fuel tax surcharge approved as part of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding reform in 2013.

The commission will also use tolls the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to collect as it installs an electronic toll system that will allow drivers who aren’t carrying passengers the choice of paying to use the region’s uncrowded high occupancy vehicle lanes, Page told the Hampton council.

“It’ll be nothing like you’ve seen in Northern Virginia,” Page said. Tolls there can exceed $30 when traffic on the high occupancy lanes is heavy.

“We’re looking at one-sy and two-sy dollars,” he said. The Virginia Department of Transportation has not yet decided what its minimum toll will be for single drivers using high occupancy lanes and is still crunching numbers to see what the usual likely range would be, project manager Anthony Gibson said.

Among other things, the regional tax surcharges and tolls will allow the commission to sell bonds to investors that will raise $3 billion in six lump sums needed to pay for HRBT work over the next six years, beginning with $164 million this fiscal year and peaking at $844 million in fiscal year 2022, according to a spreadsheet prepared for Hampton’s council.

Some of that tax surcharge and toll revenue, though, will be “pay-go” money, going directly to cover HRBT costs. That flow of money will total $410 million over the six years, according to the commission spread sheet.

At the same time, the commission’s six-year financing plan calls for it to contribute a total of $400 million to the cost of widening Interstate 64 on the Peninsula over the next six years, as well as $500 million for improvements to the High Rise Bridge in Chesapeake, and $290 million for work on the I-64/I-264 interchange in Norfolk. These sums are all “pay-go” dollars. VDOT will cover about about $417 million of those three projects’ costs over the six years.

VDOT engineers meanwhile are working on plans for the HRBT, and should have a basic configuration set this winter. It will ask firms for proposals next year, and plans to award a contract in early 2019.

The commission’s board is due to vote on the financing plan later this month.

Earlier, Gibson told the Hampton council that VDOT plans to begin collecting tolls on Dec. 6 from drivers who don’t have passengers but who are willing to pay to drive on the eight miles of I-64’s high occupancy vehicle lanes, between I-564 and I-264 in Norfolk.

Drivers with at least one passenger will still be able to use the lanes for free, but they will need to get a transponder that allows them to signal to the electronic toll collection system when they have passengers.

Gibson said VDOT believes offering drivers the option of paying for a less crowded road will shift about 17 percent of current traffic off of that stretch of I-64.

Tolls will vary, depending on how crowded the high occupancy vehicle lanes get. The aim is to maintain an average speed of 45 mph, Gibson said.

Tolls for drivers without passengers will rise when it looks as if traffic is slowing, he said.

Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535

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