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Virginia gets federal boost for Potomac rail bridge, other projects

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Virginia has received $729 million in federal money that advances a plan to boost train capacity over the Potomac River and grow passenger rail operations within the decade, members of the state’s congressional delegation announced Thursday.

The grant will support construction of a new Long Bridge, which is projected to cost nearly $2.3 billion, according to the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority. The federal aid is critical for filling a funding gap that officials had warned could put the project at risk for delays.

The existing 117-year-old, double-track span over the Potomac — the main route for trains traveling south from Washington — is at 98 percent capacity during peak traffic times. Plans call for a new two-track span parallel to the current Long Bridge that would separate passenger and freight trains, boost commerce and meet demands for passenger trains along the Interstate 95 corridor.

“Long Bridge is the connection between the Northeast and the Southeast, and there’s nothing that can really happen in terms of growing our rail usage both for passenger and freight if you don’t deal with Long Bridge,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said as members of the Virginia’s congressional delegation, along with Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), marked the award Thursday in Arlington.

Va. seeks federal money as work set to start on new Potomac rail bridge

The new funding — through a passenger rail grant program as part of the federal infrastructure law — was announced as part of a series of grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week for major rail projects, including more than $6 billion for high-speed rail. That includes $3 billion for Brightline’s Las Vegas-to-Southern California route and another $3 billion to California High-Speed Rail Authority for ongoing construction of a 500-mile project connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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The federal money announced Thursday comes months after Virginia officials warned of delays if funding wasn’t secured this year to close a $729 million budget gap in Virginia’s rail program.

The rail authority had applied for $829 million in federal grants through two programs to help pay for construction of the Long Bridge and other projects in Virginia’s $7.2 billion rail program. The new span and other upgrades just south of Washington aim to alleviate a growing East Coast bottleneck of passenger and freight trains at the Potomac River.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said the project will reduce congestion near L’Enfant Plaza, double Amtrak’s capacity through the corridor and increase capacity for Virginia Railway Express trains. Warner credited the federal infrastructure law with making the funding possible.

“This is a great day for Virginia,” he said. “A long time coming.”

Thursday’s announcement came one day after Virginia’s rail authority voted to approve a construction contract for the north section of the project. It selected construction engineering firm Skanska and Flatiron to lead the work, planned from the northern banks of the Potomac to just south of the L’Enfant Plaza Virginia Railway Express station in the District. A second contract is expected to be issued next year for the construction of the new span over the river.

Officials said the Skanska-Flatiron team will take the project from design — now about 30 percent complete — to construction. Early work will begin next year, while construction is expected to be complete in six years.

The contractor selection is a major milestone in keeping the project’s timeline on track for the span to open in 2030.

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Also Wednesday, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority approved the selection of a construction team for an almost mile-long bypass just south of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, which will allow Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express trains to cross over two freight rail tracks to reduce delays. The two-year construction project is expected to begin in the spring.

Rail authority Executive Director DJ Stadtler said the selection of construction contractors for the Long Bridge’s northern section and the Franconia-Springfield project is “a significant milestone in our plan to build passenger rail infrastructure at a level not seen in generations.”

Cost rises for Potomac rail bridge that would eliminate East Coast bottleneck

“We look forward to working with both teams in this important step toward making rail a viable transportation option and truly transforming rail in Virginia,” he said.

In addition to the Long Bridge, the new funding will support plans for a third rail along existing track in Northern Virginia, including three miles in Prince William County, two miles in Stafford County and four miles in Spotsylvania County.

The Long Bridge plan, conceived more than a decade ago, also calls for the addition of a pedestrian and bike bridge between Long Bridge Park in Arlington and East Potomac Park in the District.

CSX owns the Long Bridge, which is mostly in the District, as the new bridge will be. The new span, which will be owned by the state, is critical for Virginia to realize its ambitions to grow commuter and passenger train service, as well as handle projected increases in freight transportation because of growth at the Port of Virginia.

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The additional capacity connecting the District’s Southwest Waterfront to Crystal City will help Virginia separate passenger and freight trains, which officials say will improve service reliability, and let VRE introduce more service. The commuter rail line already is planning to introduce Saturday trips next year.

Youngkin (R) said Thursday the new funding will help rail projects that are opening the corridor between D.C. and Virginia, as well as along the entire East Coast, while also connecting Virginians with commerce. He said it’s part of a multiyear effort to revamp passenger rail in the state.

“Virginia is transforming rail,” Youngkin said, “and this is what it’s all about.”

Source: Washington Post

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