Just after 12:30 Thursday afternoon, a car stopped at the corner of Sophia and William streets and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner stepped out.

The senator greeted a gaggle of officials before taking a tour of the rebuilt Chatham Bridge and Fredericksburg’s new Riverfront Park.

The visit was part of his four-day tour of the state that he used to discuss a variety of issues and federal responses to them.

It started Monday, when he addressed affordability and discrimination in housing during stops in Arlington and Fairfax counties. The Democratic senator also had stops this week in the Winchester area, Harrisonburg, Roanoke and Charlottesville, talking about such issues as telehealth, the supply chain, mail delays, social media and broadband expansion.

At several stops, Warner delivered federal funding and talked about more efforts geared toward improving infrastructure.

That was the primary focus of his Fredericksburg stop, where he touted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill includes $973 billion in funds through 2026, of which $550 billion is specifically for transportation. The bill also funds improvements to water, power and broadband infrastructure.

Warner was a key author of the bill, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in November.

On Thursday, Warner walked with the group to the viewing area of the Chatham Bridge, chatted about the $23.4 million rehabilitation project and took photos before moving to Riverfront Park, where he was told about the $5 million project.

The senator, standing next to a placard with a map of Virginia and blue dots indicating the 530 Virginia bridges in poor condition, talked about the infrastructure investment.

“We’ve been talking about infrastructure for 40 years, didn’t matter which party was in control, and it always would get punted,” Warner said, noting that five Democrats and five Republicans worked on the bill. “And we finally said it’s time to sit down and let’s work this out. We worked it out.”

The bill includes $110 billion to improve poor conditions on roads and bridges across the U.S., and, according to Warner, it has $578 million set aside to improve bridges in Virginia.

“There’s a whole pot of new resources there,” he said, adding that localities have a chance to use the funds to make big improvements.

Fredericksburg City Councilman Matt Kelly, who walked along with the group Thursday, said the city will benefit in some way. They just don’t know the details yet.

Rich Dalton, the CEO of the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail service, also joined the group Thursday, and pointed out how VRE will benefit through the infrastructure funding.

“It’s like a 30% increase for us,” Dalton said, explaining that over the five-year period VRE will reap that much more funding annually.

Dalton said VRE will incorporate the new funds into long-term capital improvement projects for the rail system, which like other transit providers has struggled to draw riders back since the pandemic.

The funds could soon be in the pipeline for Virginia projects.

“These funds are distributed to our existing Highway Construction Programs and used where appropriate for federal eligibility, local Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kelly Hannon said in an email. “The first draft of the use of these funds will be presented to the Commonwealth Transportation Board at their April 2022 meeting.”

During Thursday’s stop, Warner also noted the push toward electric vehicles, which means the U.S.needs charging stations.

He said the infrastructure plan includes $7.5 billion to build charging stations, along with funding to buy 25,000 new school buses over the next five years. Warner said he hopes those buses will be electric.

“It shouldn’t be fully funded by the government,” he said of the addition of charging stations across the country. “There’s got to be private-sector involvement as well. I think charging stations are like the gas stations of the future.”

Warner called the infrastructure investment a “net positive for all communities.”

He then emphasized that the massive infrastructure expenditure deserves well-planned projects with the long term in mind, because it could be the last time “you’ll ever see Uncle Sam put this much money forward” at one time.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com



Source link