Richmond Freeway Underground Utilities Project Faces Costs, Delays and Risks | FFXnow

Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

An underground utility project on the Richmond Freeway could be buried due to cost, construction delays and the risk it poses to federal funding for other projects along the corridor.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors weighed the pros and cons of burying utilities along the freeway, also known as Route 1, at an Economic Initiatives Committee meeting on Tuesday, 26 July.

Burying utilities is a fairly common (and supported) practice, but the Route 1 proposal is complicated by two other major infrastructure projects in the corridor: the widening of the freeway and the construction of a bus rapid transit (BRT) service.

Although the board took no definitive action on Tuesday, it was clear that a number of committee members, including chairman Jeff McKay, were leaning towards scrapping the project altogether.

“It kinda sounds like ‘why wouldn’t we?’ if you just look at it on the surface, but as we dug into it a bit today…it shows a little more clearly how unclear it is,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

In a presentation, staff said the county would be solely responsible for funding any underground, without assistance from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) or the Federal Transit Authority (FTA).

Burying utilities could also cause a two-year delay for the Route 1 and BRT widening projects, adding an extra year each for design work and construction. This would push the completion date of widening to 2031 and that of BRT to 2032.

Burying utilities would also increase the cost of both projects by at least $264 million, requiring an additional $136 million for the actual construction and potentially an additional $128 million to account for inflation during the delay. two years.

Potential Costs of Burying Richmond Freeway Utilities (via Fairfax County)

To raise the necessary funds, county staff offered to work with the General Assembly to implement a “surcharge” for utilities. A surtax of $1 per month for residents and a surtax of 2.5% on commercial properties up to a maximum of 6.67% would bring in $40 million in revenue per year.

However, a surcharge would require an agreement with utility companies, primarily Dominion Energy, Verizon, Cox and NOVEC. Even if a deal is reached, it could take 12 to 18 months for the companies to approve their own “internal legal review” processes, further delaying the underground.

According to staff, burying utilities could also result in the loss of $334 million in federal funding that the FTA provides for the BRT project.

Since the project’s costs would increase and it would not generate any additional ridership, the FTA would likely downgrade the project from a “high” rating to potentially “medium-low,” county staff said. According to the law, the authority is prohibited from financing projects with a rating lower than “average”.

The utility basement would add “substantial financial risk” to the county and two other ongoing projects along the corridor, staff said.

“I think of those restaurants, those nail salons, all those businesses struggling to survive and adding that [surcharge]Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said. “Personally, I have a hard time getting into the underground when you look at all of our needs and priorities. It’s hard for me to see the underground advantage at this point.

Fairfax County and other Northern Virginia officials have been considering burying more utilities for a decade now, since a June 2012 storm knocked out power and phone service in the area, according to On the MoVe.

Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck said he hears constituents talking about the Richmond Freeway burial all the time and thinks many in the community support it.

This would improve service reliability, minimize conflicts with trees and signage, improve road safety by eliminating potential hazards, and reduce visual clutter, which could help businesses along the corridor.

“If you look at the utilities there [on Route 1] today, how could you not be disturbed by this? McKay said. “They’re going all over the place, they’re hanging low, they’re on crooked poles, they’ve got stuff hanging everywhere. They are on both sides of the road, they are intrusive and they are ugly.

Although the consequences for the widening of the Richmond Freeway and the BRT may outweigh the benefits for some, several council members suggested finding other ways to better organize public air services and make them more visually acceptable could be a priority in these projects.

The committee agreed to consult with the FTA for a more definitive answer on how the proposed landfill would affect federal funding for the BRT.

“I understand everyone’s desire for underground utilities,” McKay said. “To me, if we can’t get the federal funding to do [the BRT] project happens, so we can’t go underground. This is the reality of the financial situation.

Bonny J. Streater