‘Urban fund’ soon gone

Published 12:45 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Smithfield has tapped state money for variety of projects

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Smithfield town officials are citing its “urban fund” as a source of money for a few transportation projects, including a turn lane at the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex and the Nike Park bike trail.

And while the town has turned to that pot of money in the past, the fund will eventually be exhausted as the state in no longer making new annual allocations, said Town Manager Peter Stephenson.

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Fiscal year 2010 was the last year the state distributed money into the construction allocation known as “urban funds,” and the funding formula has since changed, to include Smart Scale, said VDOT spokesman Dave Forster.    {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Stephenson recently reported that there was $2.1 million left in the town’s urban fund, with about half of that committed to the sports complex turn lane design and construction, an intersection analysis at South Church Street and Benn’s Church Boulevard and an analysis of the third segment of the Nike Park bike trail.

That leaves a balance of about $1.14 million for construction of either or both of the intersection and bike trail projects — assuming the bids received on the sports complex turn lane are reasonable, Stephenson said.  

Isle of Wight County has stated that the third segment of the bike trail could cost from $700,000 to $1.2 million, Stephenson said. If the bids come in at the high end, the town could apply for additional transportation grants to fill in the gaps, Stephenson said.

The town has committed $176,861 to the South Church/Benn’s Church intersection analysis, but it’s too early to speculate on any future recommendations or costs on that project, he added.

Earlier this year, town officials decided to study the intersection to see if an interchange is necessary at that intersection. The intersection currently has a traffic signal, which was meant to be temporary when it was installed decades ago.

Meanwhile, VDOT owns the land on the east side of the Route 10 bypass — real estate the town would like to acquire if VDOT determines an interchange is not necessary, according to town officials.

Beyond the “urban fund,” future construction projects may be funded through the new competitive VDOT Smart Scale program or through the state revenue sharing program or federal grants, Stephenson said.

Smart Scale is based on legislation passed by legislators in 2014 as a way to objectify roads projects based on criteria such as traffic congestion and other measures and to take the politics out of the process.

For regular street and right-of-way maintenance, the town receives quarterly funding from the state that is maintained in a separate highway fund, Stephenson said.

Smithfield’s urban fund got its start in the 1980s in connection with plans to add a turn lane along South Church Street from Route 10 to the Cypress Creek Bridge.

Those plans were met with opposition and they were later amended to include only the portion of South Church Street from the Smithfield bypass to Battery Park Road, which was widened to five lanes.

The remainder of the project was postponed for years, and the fund never became large enough to build the lane, so the Smithfield Town Council instead opted to use some of the funding to complete the South Church Street beautification project in the historic district.  {/mprestriction}