State legislators continue push for undergrounding utilities on Route 1 corridor
Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell and his counterpart in the House of Delegates, Paul Krizek, have not given up on the possibility of getting utilities undergrounded along the Route 1 corridor as part of the Richmond Highway widening and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system projects.
According to Surovell, he, Krizek and State Senator Adam Ebbin were successful this month in securing an amendment to a bill involving the undergrounding of transmission lines in Fauquier County. The amended bill, which is awaiting Governor Glenn Youngkin’s signature, would authorize a pilot program for an electric distribution mainline to be undergrounded in conjunction with a transportation infrastructure improvement project using a federal transit grant — in other words, the Richmond Highway BRT project.
Once the bill becomes law, which would happen by early April, Fairfax County would need to enter into an agreement with Dominion Energy to underground the transmission line and secure approval for the pilot program from the State Corporation Commission. For every $100 million that Dominion spends on undergrounding, the average Dominion residential ratepayer would pay an additional $.20 per month for energy usage to help Dominion recoup its investment, said Surovell.
On top of Dominion's investment, the Virginia Department of Transportation previously agreed to contribute at least $15 million toward undergrounding. Verizon already committed to covering its own undergrounding costs if the underground duct bank is expanded for its lines at an approximate cost of $5-10 million.
One of Fairfax County officials' biggest concerns about pursuing undergrounding has been the prospect of jeopardizing the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) $460 million in funding for BRT. Surovell said, however, that he and Krizek spoke with FTA officials in January and got assurance that once BRT enters phase two of the New Starts grant program — which it's expected to do this spring — the federal funding would remain reserved in spite of any design delays.
“To me, the only risk is the possibility that the project becomes more expensive because it's delayed,” said Surovell, adding that it might be necessary for the county to pursue additional sources of funding. When Surovell was first elected during the 2009 recession, infrastructure projects were in a deflationary period due to lack of work, noted Surovell, but that has since changed.
While county officials may be reluctant to see BRT project costs continue to rise in the face of inflationary pressure, Surovell sees room for hope and says he and Krizek will continue to negotiate with county and VDOT officials.
“We've invested tens of billions in other projects like the Metro Silver Line,” said Surovell. “So it seems to me, we should be able to find a way to find additional funding over the next seven years of construction.”