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[Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – Gov. Robert F. McDonnell made one of his final appearances in Prince William County as governor on Friday. He got serious about planting trees.

The outgoing leader was in the Southbridge neighborhood near Dumfries to laud the $1.5 million restoration of Swans Creek, where more than 7,000 new trees and shrubs have been planted by the developer of the I-95 Express Lanes Fluor-Transurban. When the 29-mile transportation project was announced last year – which is converting I-95’s HOV lanes to toll lanes, extending them to Va. 610 in North Stafford, and will allow vehicles with three or more occupants to ride free with an EZ-Pass transponder when they open in early 2015 – company officials said they would plant new trees to offset ones they had removed from the median of I-95.

With the work on the project more than halfway complete, McDonnell said these types of construction projects funded with both private and public dollars, known as PPTAs, have helped Virginia improve its transportation infrastructure.

After a ribbon cutting for the restored stream, several elected officials, some from the Virginia Department of Transportation, and Fluor-Transurban officials grabbed shovels to place dirt on the final tree to be planted in the field. Serious about his job, McDonnell continue to fill dirt onto the top of the tree until it was completely covered.

“C’Mon you slackers, get to work,” he quipped.

As the sun sets on his administration, McDonnell has met with Gov.-Elect Terence Richard “Terry” McAuliffe and briefed him on matters in transportation and education, two legacy issues McDonnell said he wants to be remembered for.

“For a generation, maybe a little bit longer, we have improved transportation… 17.6 billion over the next six years… it’s a 54% increase… we’ve had dramatic reform in how we do things with [public-private transportation agreements]. The people of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads are going to be far better off with their quality of life for a while to come,” the governor said.

The transportation improvements come after landmark legislation signed into law this year that raised state sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to as much as 6% to fund transportation improvements. It was the first major transportation funding reform in 25 years.

Following Friday’s photo op, new figures were released by McDonnell’s office on just how much taxpayers are on the hook for to pay lawyers to look into records seizures tied to McDonnell’s $160,000 in gifts and money from private company Star Scientific. A McDonnell spokesperson said the lawyers were appointed by the state, are charging discounted rates, and are not defending McDonnell personally – that defense counsel is being paid for through a non-taxpayer funded account.

When he leaves office in January, McDonnell told Potomac Local News he will remain in his home state of Virginia.

“I’ve been here for most of my life, barring some time in the military and business,” he said.

He did not say what job he will take next but does plan to make an announcement about his next move in a few weeks.