Warren County projects fail to make list

The state’s new scoring system for transportation projects has left out Warren County again.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board released this week the second round of projects scored under the Smart Scale prioritization process. Localities, metropolitan organizations and other regional agencies submitted 404 applications for consideration totaling more than $8.5 billion. The board screened out 33 applications totaling $1.8 billion. The state has $1 billion available for projects. The board received about 40 applications for projects in the Staunton District, which covers the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Warren County submitted two projects for consideration: an overpass or grade-separated crossing on Rockland Road and the widening to four lanes of Va. 55 east from the Front Royal town limits to the Gore Road intersection. Neither project made the list released this week. The county sought funding for an overpass on Rockland Road to allow traffic to travel over the railroad when a train blocks the intersection. The county has pushed for the widening of Va. 55 east of the town for years, and the Board of Supervisors recently made the project the top transportation priority.

Deputy County Administrator Bob Childress said Friday that officials plan to keep trying for funding.

“With any time your application is turned down, there’s some disappointment,” Childress said.

The estimated cost of the Va. 55 improvements – currently at $31.5 million – likely knocked the project out of contention, Childress said. In addition, the county received $220,000 from VDOT last year to study the corridor and develop short- and long-term solutions for the highway.

“It doesn’t score well and we understand there’s only so much money the state has to go around,” Childress said. “So we weren’t surprised that 55 wasn’t screened in for funding.”

County officials hope to submit a more “airtight” application for the Va. 55 project once VDOT completes the study, Childress said. In the meantime, the county might receive funding to pay for some short-term solutions, Childress added.

County officials are also disappointed that the Rockland Road project failed to make the cut, beaten out only by a couple of other proposed projects, Childress said. At an estimated $13 million, the Rockland Road project was also slightly expensive, Childress added. The project might have scored better had other funding sources been available, Childress said.

“It’s again disappointing because of the delays that are associated with the rail blockages, primarily associated with the Virginia Inland Port and some of the other industry out there,” Childress said. “It affects the quality of life of a lot of our residents in that part of the community and there’s associated life-safety issues with blocking fire trucks, ambulance services, things of that nature, school buses, so we were very hopeful that we would receive funding.”

Since VDOT announced the results county officials have communicated with the Virginia Port Authority about the Rockland Road project, which remains a high priority for the agency, Childress said. The authority plans to revisit the project as it examines its capital improvement plan and county officials are hopeful that the agency will apply for federal funding, Childress added. If successful, the funds might give the county leverage for state money, he noted.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board does not plan to make a decision on which projects to fund until its June meeting following a 5-month review process.

Staunton District projects listed in the report include:
• Acceleration and deceleration lane extensions on Interstate 81 at Exit 296 (Strasburg) as submitted by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.
• Deceleration lane extension on I-81 northbound at Exit 315 submitted by the Winchester-Frederick County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
• Acceleration lane extension on I-81 southbound at Exit 300 submitted by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.
• Sulphur Springs Road intersection improvements submitted by Frederick County.
• Final phases of the Green Circle Trail submitted by Winchester.
• Papermill Road turn lane submitted by Frederick County.

Key factors in the scoring process cover improvements to safety; congestion reduction; accessibility to jobs and businesses; land use; economic development; and the environment. No projects in Frederick or Warren County made the top four in any of the six scoring categories. Shenandoah County did not submit projects for consideration.

Information included in the board’s update shows the project for the Exit 300 acceleration lane on I-81 southbound aims to improve travel on the corridor serving 158,544 freight tons.

The Virginia Department of Transportation made projects submitted in the fall available for public review and input during several meetings held across the state. The Commonwealth Transportation Board plans to release a draft scenario of projects for funding for public review this spring. Projects will be funded for construction once the Commonwealth Transportation Board makes its final decision on which initiatives to include in the Six-Year Improvement Program.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com