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RICHMOND – In their proposed amendments to the state’s biennial budget released Sunday, lawmakers signaled their willingness to fund the construction of a new inland port in Virginia in Southwest Virginia.
The House Appropriations Committee in their conference report also approved a $150 million allocation to complete the widening of Interstate 81 between exits 143 and 150 in the Roanoke Valley, and it agreed to fund the renovation of a building on the Catawba Hospital campus with $14.7 million – a critical first step towards the hospital’s planned transformation into a state-of-the-art campus offering substance use disorder treatment and addiction recovery.
The committee honored a request by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, who had asked for $55 million to buy land and build what would become Virginia’s second inland port, to be built in the Mount Rogers Planning District, which encompasses six counties and two cities in Southwest Virginia.
The state’s only other inland port sits on a 161-acre site Front Royal in Warren County. Inland ports are ports located on an inland waterway, such as a river, lake or canal, which may or may not be connected to the sea.
Later on Sunday, the Senate Finance Committee backed a request by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, in its own budget proposal. Pillion sought $10 million for the initial planning, design and site acquisition, which is needed to get the project started.
“The inclusion of the inland port project in both the Senate and House budget bills advanced today by the money committees is a significant first step in our budget process,” Pillion said Sunday.
Last year, the General Assembly voted to fund a $200,000 study, which concluded that the Central Virginia Planning District, centered around Lynchburg, “does not currently have the demand to justify the development of an inland port.”
The Mount Rogers Planning District, the study found, “meets enough market-driven and physical conditions to warrant additional assessment,” making it the preferable choice.
“Since the feasibility report was first released in January, we have been working with our colleagues on Senate Finance and House Appropriations as well as the Virginia Port Authority and Youngkin administration to capitalize on the favorable findings and commit to moving forward,” Pillion said.
“While our work is far from over, I am optimistic about the progress we are making and grateful for today’s collective recognition that development of an inland port in Southwest Virginia should be a strategic priority for the commonwealth.”
Virginia’s legislature adopts a two-year budget every other year, and unlike the federal government, the commonwealth must remain funded to avert a detrimental impact not only on the state government but localities relying on cash from the state. The biennial budget is enacted into law in even-numbered years, and amendments to it are enacted in odd-numbered years.
The House Appropriations Committee on Sunday did not approve a $147 million budget request by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, to begin the transformation of the state-owned Catawba Hospital, instead opting to fund the planning cost and renovation of an existing building with $14.7 million.
“We’re going to get this through the conference report and we are going to work on it pretty quickly and get the localities on board,” said Del. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt County, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “There’s a lot of money that’s going to come, and we can get a lot more benefit from a regional facility. We will implement something broader in the future,” Austin said in an interview Sunday.
Just 10 days ago, a House panel unanimously backed Rasoul’s proposal, which followed the recommendation of a 127-page report prepared by the VDH and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services that agreed with his vision for the Roanoke County hospital.
In its report, the department proposes three tiers of renovations, ranging in scope and cost from $147 million to $192 million and $240 million. Each option provides for more in-patient beds, an education and research building unique to substance use disorder treatment, and a new outpatient facility ranging from a 52,000-square-foot, three-story building to 70,000 square feet over four floors.
Rasoul called the committee’s allocation a critical first step.
“The first phase funds the planning of construction, and I think that with almost every project that is planned by the General Assembly comes to fruition, this is a great sign for a first step in making this happen and bringing residential treatment beds to the Catawba campus,” he said, adding that the initial investment of almost $15 million was a “pretty strong signal” for the legislature’s commitment to the project.
“As we develop a continuum of services that can be offered at Catawba, we can potentially think about further integrating crisis receiving centers with crisis stabilization units of which the General Assembly is very committed to,” Rasoul said.
Each chamber will debate and adopt its version of the budget this week before the finalized versions cross over to the other body for review. As the next step, a Budget Conference Committee is appointed to negotiate the final version of the amended budget and present it to the House and Senate, where it is voted on again before heading to the governor’s desk.