The Arlington Bridge, pictures leading to the Jefferson Memorial, is in need of repair
The Arlington Bridge, pictures leading to the Jefferson Memorial, is in need of repair | flickr, the commons

Virginia gets $165 million federal grant for Atlantic Gateway project

The U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $165 million grant to jump-start construction of Virginia’s proposed Atlantic Gateway Project on Tuesday, along with another $90 million grant to repair the aging Arlington Memorial Bridge connecting Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The federal grant, allocated under the DOT’s FASTLANE program, which is designed to support nationally and regionally significant freight and rail projects, is part of a wider, $1.4 billion state effort to ease traffic bottlenecks in the I-95 corridor in Northern Virginia, and could eventually lead to the construction of high speed rail in the state.

In a statement, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the grant will help “transform travel conditions and stimulate economic growth across our Commonwealth.”

The Governor’s office said the FASTLANE grant would be combined with $565 million in private investments from Florida-based CSX railroad and the Australian-based Transurban, which has built extensions of the existing express lanes along I-95, along with $710 million in other transportation funds.

Among the major items in the Atlantic Gateway project are a series of rail projects to alleviate congestion over the Potomac River, plus some extended express lanes along I-95 and a new bridge over the Rappahannock River outside Fredericksburg.

The state will also acquire CSX Corp.’s S-line between Richmond and North Carolina. The line is currently unused, but once in state hands, could, according the governor’s office, provide a “corridor key for future Southeast High Speed Rail.”

The plan also includes funds to “build pavement for autonomous vehicle enhancement,” which, once completed, “will provide the infrastructure to test and deploy driverless cars” in the state.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne called the Atlantic Gateway project “absolutely essential” to the state’s long-term economic health. “The Atlantic Gateway will create jobs and contribute to our efforts to build a new Virginia economy, and we could not have moved forward without this important federal funding.”

Construction will occur in phases, and could begin as early as 2017.

The $90 million FASTLANE grant for the Arlington Memorial Bridge won bipartisan, regional support.   

In a joint statement, Virginia Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Washington, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, and Barbara Comstock said the grant would help the National Parks Service, which manages the bridge, begin “planning and contracting immediately so that construction can begin early next year.”

The 84 year-old bridge, which connects the District of Columbia with Northern Virginia, is structurally deficient, and has never had major renovation work done since its construction in 1932.

FASTLANE stands for Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies. The five-year, $4.6 billion grant program was created as part of the 2015 transportation bill to award grants for projects designed to improve safety, increase mobility, and generate economic benefits.

The Department of Transportation received 212 grant proposals totaling more than $9.8 billion – 13 times more than the $800 million allocated for the program’s first year.

Congress has 60 days to review each grant made, and can vote to deny specific grants, if it chooses to do so.