From the Desk of Rob Wittman
Virginia’s First Congressional District is home to some of the nation’s most unique transportation challenges. To unlock Virginia’s economic potential, we must solve these challenges through a combined federal, state, and local government effort. And just as importantly, these efforts must be sound and targeted, making the necessary investments free from political distractions.
One of our first steps must be to address congestion along the I-95 corridor. The Commonwealth of Virginia has done its part by making the necessary investments. Now the federal government must do its part to leverage these investments, including through public-private partnerships and by embracing modern, innovative technologies.
Even with these investments, easing congestion requires us to get more cars off the road. Commuter rail makes that possible. Long Bridge, which spans the Potomac River between Virginia and DC, serves as a critical gateway between southeast and northeast rail networks. In other words, it’s the gateway through which thousands of my constituents commute to DC and Northern Virginia each day on services such as the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and Amtrak. Owned and operated by CSX, the existing Long Bridge is the only railroad bridge connecting Virginia to DC. It is the most significant passenger and freight rail chokepoint along the entire east coast. Under normal circumstances, the bridge functions at 98% capacity during peak periods, preventing DC, Virginia, and Maryland from increasing passenger and commuter rail service for their communities.
Just last month, Virginia and CSX finalized a landmark agreement to expand reliability and service on Virginia’s rail lines, creating a pathway to separate passenger and freight operations along the Richmond to DC corridor. This $3.7 billion investment included building a new Virginia-owned Long Bridge across the Potomac River, with dedicated tracks for passenger and commuter rail. As a requirement for the Long Bridge Project to proceed, Virginia needed to acquire land from the National Park Service. Fortunately, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 included my bill, The Long Bridge Act of 2020, which allows the necessary transfer of National Park Service lands for the Long Bridge Project.
But I-95 is not our only interstate in need of improvement. The Interstate 64 (I-64) corridor is the lifeline connecting the economic and military hub of Hampton Roads to the rest of the Commonwealth and the world. I-64 allows residents to commute daily and provides easy access to tourist attractions throughout the region. The I-64 Peninsula Widening Project in the Hampton Roads area is vital to increase vehicle capacity, resulting in immediate congestion relief along one of the most heavily traveled highways in Virginia. Widening I-64 is essential for increased economic development in the Hampton Roads Region and directly supports freight transportation from the Port of Virginia. It is essential for military readiness by providing access to, from, and between military facilities and is an essential emergency evacuation route during hurricane events affecting southeast Virginia.
Also of concern to southeast Virginia is The Port of Virginia. One of the largest and busiest ports on the eastern seaboard, the Port of Virginia is one of our most powerful economic engines. On an annual basis, the Port is responsible for more than 400,000 jobs and $92 billion in spending across our Commonwealth. Furthermore, the Port of Virginia generates more than seven and a half percent of our Gross State Product. Still, the Port’s true reach extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and into the Midwest and Ohio Valley.
However, to remain such a potent economic force, the Port of Virginia urgently needs to deepen, widen, and expand its channels. Public and private non-federal interests have already invested billions of dollars on landside infrastructure and are prepared to provide their cost-share to complete this crucial navigation project on time. To remain on schedule, the Norfolk Harbor and Channel Project require a New Start Designation and robust federal investment to fully fund the Inner Harbor contract and match the non-federal cost share. Federal investment in this project will allow the Port to remain a prominent economic hub for the nation and a key player in domestic and international trade by generating more than $78 million in annual national economic development benefits. The deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor will ensure the continued safe and timely passage of larger commercial and military vessels through Norfolk Harbor.
Moving goods and services is an essential part of economic growth. But in today’s world, moving information has become equally important. In turn, infrastructure is no longer limited to concrete and asphalt, but has expanded to fiber optic cabling, cellphone towers, and much more.
However, rural Americans, particularly in Virginia, face tremendous disparities in broadband connectivity. As Co-Chair of the Rural Broadband Caucus, I work tirelessly to bring broadband to those without. Over the last few years, we have secured millions of dollars to expand broadband to thousands of homes and businesses across Virginia’s First Congressional District.
Building and repairing our infrastructure requires more than just federal dollars. As our need for infrastructure increases, so too does the demand for a skilled and capable workforce. To accommodate those demands, we must emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) to better prepare our students to enter the workforce.
We need a robust yet targeted infrastructure package to meet Virginia’s First Congressional District's needs. Unfortunately, President Biden’s infrastructure package misses the mark. Rather than making critical economic investments, President Biden’s proposed package only allocates 6% of its funding to roads and bridges and much more to Green New Deal-style projects.
We can do better than that, and Virginia deserves better than that. These projects are vital to rebuilding the American economy. No Member of Congress should accept a package that does anything less than meet our targeted infrastructure needs free from waste or political games.