Uncertainty over the outcome of the lawsuit challenging the use of tolls for the Midtown Tunnel P3 project isn’t stopping the Virginia Department of Transportation from contemplating other opportunities for the private-sector to help fund highway improvements.
This week, VDOT’s Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships (OTP3) short-listed 10 candidate projects, including a section of the long-planned I-73 corridor between the North Carolina state line and Roanoke, extension of the I-495/Capital Beltway Express Lanes in Northern Virginia, and widening Interstate 64 between Richmond and Newport News.
Other projects include a new connector road between the yet-to-be-built U.S. 460 toll road and Interstate 85, widening of Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia, and improvements to Hampton Roads’ bridge and tunnel crossings.
OTP3 is also exploring soliciting private-sector assistance in leasing air rights over sections of the I-66 corridor in Arlington County for development projects, and taking advantage of state right-of-way to lease space for cell towers and fiber optic cables. “Conceptual” P3 projects under consideration include developing managed lanes on I-81 through the congested Roanoke-Salem area, at-speed truck weight check systems, and development of a visitors center and other facilities at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island.
Virginia’s early and active embrace of P3s has place the state a leader in augmenting diminishing public transportation budgets with private-sector financing and concession agreements to fast-track infrastructure projects, most of which usually involve toll revenue from facility users.
That model encountered a legal roadblock earlier this year when a judge struck down a plan allowing Elizabeth River Crossings to impose tolls on the existing Midtown Tunnel to fund construction of a parallel tube. Virginia has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Though it’s unlikely the state’s P3 enabling legislation will be scrapped should the decision be upheld, future arrangements between the state and its private partners may require different legal and operational structures, particularly those involving existing, “free” highways and crossings.