In an unusual move for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program (TIFIA), the department has approved a $502.9-million loan for a package of Virginia projects that are already under construction.

The loan, which DOT announced on Dec. 11, will help to finance a group of six highway and bridge projects in Hampton Roads.

The loan isn't the first for TIFIA for projects under way, however. In February, U.S. DOT approved a $605-million loan under the program for the Grand Parkway, a toll highway in the Houston area. Construction had started on that project before the TIFIA loan got the green light.

But Kevin Page, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC), the Virginia loan's recipient, says that typically, agencies apply for TIFIA assistance for projects in an "embryonic" stage.

He says the group of Hampton Roads projects, whose total cost is about $1.4 billion, aim to reduce traffic congestion on Interstate-64. The projects involve 196 lane-miles of new construction or reconstruction. According to Page, a TIFIA loan for a group of projects also is unusual.

He says, "It was a very innovative approach for TIFIA to come forward and work with HRTAC in a very collaborative way." He credits DOT's Build America Bureau, which oversees TIFIA, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, Virginia DOT and the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization to assemble the group of projects, get them under way and now get the last major financing piece in place.

The Hampton Roads list includes: the first three segments of the I-64 Peninsula Improvement Project; phases one and two of the I-64/I-264 interchange project; and phase one of the High Rise Bridge I-64 south side widening.

The loan will supplement $583 million in bonds that the Hampton Roads commission issued in February 2018, as well as HRTAC, state and local government funding.

One advantage that the commission has is the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund, a dedicated regional gasoline, sales and use tax, which will generate revenue to help repay the TIFIA loan. The fund brought in $211 million last year, Page says.

VDOT administers the construction contracts for the projects, under a standard agreement with HRTAC. The Hampton Roads projects are scheduled to be completed in 2021 and 2022.

TIFIA was established in 1998. Its loans are limited to 33% of a project's total cost.