Cash-Strapped VA Picking Contractor for Controversial Port Highway

State spending its last $1.4 billion for design/build contract (likely to go to Ferrovial Agroman/American Infrastructure) after toll revenue failed twice to entice a contractor

Virginia has used $3 billion in new-construction funds to patch potholes since 2002, but the state scraped up $1.4 billion to bankroll a new highway with low traffic projections.

The new road would run 55 miles between Petersburg and Suffolk, parallel to U.S. 460. The state put the project out to bid twice in recent years, hoping companies would build it in exchange for the toll revenue. The private sector declined both times, saying traffic projections were too low to turn a profit.

But with the Port of Virginia in Norfolk being one of the few on the eastern seaboard capable of accepting supersized container ships that will soon be sailing through the rennovated Panama Canal, the state is committed to building the highway to spur construction of freight distribution centers.

The port board agreed to supply $250 million for the project. The state came up with $930 million in bond money. Sale of BBB-minus bonds will add $216 million. All of the state's transportation funds will be wiped out by 2017 if new funding is not found, officials say, with the new highway lapping up the last of the state’s construction dollars.

Now, a private company will be paid to design and build the road. The state hopes to sign a final agreement with Ferrovial Agroman and American Infrastructure — operating as the consortium 460 Mobility Partners — within the week. Design and right-of-way work would begin in 2013 and construction in 2014.

(more on controversy around VA highway . . . )