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Transportation money to be scarce in 2012

Thursday - 12/15/2011, 4:21am  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Don't expect much in the way of new road construction anywhere in the region over the next few years, unless it's built with private money.

That message is coming in clearly to many state and local leaders.

"The federal highway trust fund is on the verge of bankruptcy," says Sen. Mark Warner, R-Va.

"I'd love to give you a great sense that there is a new mood in Congress that says, 'Yes, we're willing to provide infrastructure funding in a reasonable sustainable way,'" Warner says. "But I can't give you that report."

The lack of federal funding also could hit transit subsidies used by many local governments further complicating their efforts to promote mass transit.

In Virginia, State Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton says the major initiative lawmakers in Richmond will deal with in their legislative session beginning next month will be to move money over from sales tax revenue to transportation maintenance.

"It's just a gradual moving off of the gas tax for use," Connaughton says.

All of that money will be used for road maintenance. Some critics of the plan proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell say that will take money away from other state funded programs such as education.

There are a number of roads under construction in the Washington region right now, including the High Occupancy Toll Lanes on the Capital Beltway, but that is part of a public-private partnership.

Warner says that may not prove to be the best deal for local residents in the long run. Tolls will be used to collect revenue to pay for the road, and there is a profit incentive for the private company which will operate the HOT Lanes.

A similar deal for HOT Lanes on a stretch of Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia is in its final stages of approval.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)