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Gov. Terry McAuliffe's decision last week to reshape the Virginia Port Authority's board marks the latest effort to correct the bustling port's financial condition and stabilize an economic juggernaut rocked by turmoil in recent years.
By replacing five of the board's 11 appointed members, including the board's chairman and vice chairman, McAuliffe has implemented significant change. The scope of that change, however, is designed to inflict less disruption than the 2011 overhaul by his predecessor, Bob McDonnell.
McDonnell replaced 10 of 11 members that year, an unprecedented move among a series of abrupt changes during his term that hindered the port's finances and operations. The former governor's inability to articulate a clear vision for the port, and stick to it, injected uncertainty that adversely affected business.
In a span of three years, his administration negotiated a 20-year lease of APM's sophisticated terminal in Portsmouth, sought to purchase the terminal outright, then entertained bids for companies to operate state-owned terminals in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News.
The privatization plan collapsed last year, after the port authority board rejected the offers and stuck with Virginia International Terminals Inc., the quasi-public organization that built the port into the third-busiest on the East Coast.
The tumult of the past few years at the port, however, provides no excuse for the continuing financial losses posted by the port. McAuliffe has pointed out the losses were greater than previously disclosed, and he has leaned heavily on the port authority's leadership, including new Executive Director John Reinhart, to improve its fiscal condition.
Reinhart has helped shepherd some organizational changes that should slow the losses, but more work will be needed to help the port realize the profits that ought to come with the recent record cargo volume.
The newly appointed members to the port authority's board include names recognizable across Hampton Roads and Virginia: G. Robert Aston Jr., CEO of Suffolk-based TowneBank; former state Del. Alan Diamonstein; Gary McCollum, Cox Communications senior vice president; John Milliken, chairman of the port authority's board until 2011; and Val McWhorter, a Northern Virginia attorney.
Their breadth of experience and knowledge should help to provide effective oversight of a hub that supports more than 340,000 jobs and brings in $40 billion-plus in revenue to public coffers each year.
By Cathy Grimes – The Daily Press
On Tuesday Jim Utterback, Virginia Department of Transportation Hampton Roads District director, and consultant project manager Steven Chapin briefed James City County supervisors on the state of the $144 million Interstate 64 widening project at their monthly meeting.
With both Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne pushing the effort to alleviate congested traffic in Hampton Roads, the project is gathering steam.
It will widen I-64 to six lanes from the Jefferson Avenue exit to just south of the Lee Hall exit, roughly 5.5 miles. The new 12-foot lanes will be added inside the existing east and westbound lanes, and the agency will widen six bridges along the route.
Utterback said the department issued a request for qualifications and has had five bidders respond. He told the James City supervisors the department hopes to issue request for proposals this summer "with the goal of awarding the contract this December."
VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Gwaltney said construction may begin in early 2015. VDOT officials estimate the project will be complete in Winter 2018.
During the presentation, Chapin said the agency is fast-tracking the project to "provide as much congestion relief as possible as quick as possible."
He noted the Federal Highway Administration issued its record of decision on the project on Monday, and VDOT will hold a design public hearing on April 30 at Woodside High School in Newport News. The three-hour event begins at 4 p.m.
Gwaltney said the hearing gives community residents a chance "to review the project exhibits on display and to provide comments and/or suggestions on the proposed project."
The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization board ranked the widening effort first on its list of projects on which to use new regional transportation revenue made possible by the 2013 transportation law. The money comes from regional sales and gas taxes. The HRTPO voted to use $44 million of the new funds to extend the widening project to Lee Hall from its original termination point of Fort Eustis Boulevard. State and federal funds also are part of the mix.
Utterback said the extension will ease problems when the interstate narrows back to four lanes as opposed to doing so near the Fort Eustis Boulevard exit.
Chapin said the project will affect property owned by Newport News and will require about 15 acres for stormwater management. Additionally VDOT may install sound barriers along some sections of the road.
Local officials have expressed some concerns about proposed landscape designs for the widened interstate. Chapin said the median currently in place ranges between 64 feet to 88 feet wide. VDOT plans to use three landscape techniques on medians after widening: a mix of shrubs and trees with concrete barriers on two stretches, grass with no barriers on one wide section south of the Fort Eustis Boulevard exits and double guardrail barriers on most of the rest of the road.
Newport News officials had expressed concern about the proposals when VDOT met with them at a recent City Council Work Session.
"This is our gateway into the city and it's really important we show off," said City Manager Jim Bourey. "It makes a huge difference if we have landscaping."
At the James City County Board meeting, Supervisor John McGlennon echoed Bourey's words, saying it was important to have "an attractive entryway" to the county from the south.
Utterback said VDOT is looking at other interstates and considering possible low-maintenance landscape treatments to improve the appearance of the medians.
"We're still early on," Utterback said.
VDOT spokesman Ron Watrous said the agency will work closely with the localities "to deliver a project that meets regional travel needs and inspires a sense of pride in Hampton Roads communities."
The widening project is the first of three segments that eventually will widen I-64 to Exit 234 north of Williamsburg. VDOT officials estimate the entire project will cost is $583 million.
Grimes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4758. Daily Press reporter Michael W. Shapiro contributed to this story.
Interstate-64 widening public hearing
When: 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 30
Where: Woodside High School, 13450 Woodside Lane, Newport News
What: VDOT officials will present an update on the project and potential designs for landscaping and bridge widening.
There will be time for questions and answers, and officials will be available to discuss the project.