Although this winter hasn't been nearly as hard on area roadways as winters past, many residents are dodging potholes on secondary roads in their neighborhoods.
Clearly, Northern Virginia's secondary roadways need ongoing maintenance, but Virginia Department of Transportation maintenance funds have run dry. Local lawmakers are frustrated over the problem, and some are wrestling with the ramifications of taking the responsibility from the state.
"Some secondary roads in [Fairfax] County haven't gotten attention in 15 years, and we have a huge system of roadways," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D). "When are those people in Richmond going to adequately fund transportation funding in Northern Virginia before it's unfixable? The state is still preparing to transfer the obligation to maintain secondary roads to localities by not having the money to take care of or build new roads. ...If the work must be done, our only choice will be to do it ourselves."
Meals Tax and Other Funding Options
to go to referendum, and, if passed, it would generate about $80 million per year. It currently costs about $100 million per year to maintain secondary roads in Fairfax County.
Virginia's Maintenance and Operating Fund, which covers bridge maintenance, guard rail repairs, paving and a number of other repairs on secondary roadways, has $240.7 million in the bank.
The Maintenance Fund is gathered by:
- State motor fuel road tax (gas tax)
- Motor Vehicle Sales Tax
- Motor Vehicle License Fees
More than $3 billion has been transferred from the Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund to the the Transportation Trust Fund since 2002, according to VDOT. The Trust fund pays for highway, airport and public transit construction.
Last week from Richmond, Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) posted a letter from VDOT to a constituent on the repaving of a 110-yard stretch of Sherwood Hall Lane. The letter indicated that funding only existed for repairs on "high volume roadways." According to the letter, "We understand that Sherwood Hall needs paving, and when funding allows, we will be happy to consider it. However, we expect minimal paving to be completed on secondary routes in Northern VA over the next two years."
Surovell told Patch from Richmond, "I was not aware that VDOT was not going to repave any roads for two years. I knew that funds were tight but [not] that it was this bad. I co-sponsored several bills about this, but they never got out of committee. ... Unless we get some legislators down here who want to be honest, we're going to keep hitting our head on the wall."
Bob Chase, President of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, sees no silver lining. "There's no longer any money available for maintenance," said Chase, who advocates raising the gas tax from 17.5 cents to 35 cents, which amounts to $1 billion annually.
"If we want to leave a better system for our kids, we need to step up and not let the roads and transit system deteriorate. That will send a message to prospective employers who will determine that this is not a place they want to bring their people, because, apparently, there is no political will to fix this situation," Chase said.
Republican Del. Dave Albo is in favor is raising the gas tax to pay for transportation. "The gas tax was sufficient in 1981 when it cost $25,000 for the construction of one mile of road. However, now it isn’t enough (today) with road construction costing around $80,000 for every mile," he wrote in an email to Patch. "My bill to index this tax was killed in sub-committee. The Senate has proposed a similar bill, S.B. 631. It doesn’t raise the tax, it just adjusts it for inflation. Since we are passing more tax cuts than this bill generates in revenue, it passes the Americans for Tax Reform 'No Tax Increase' Pledge."
Paving Plans for 2012
"There is going to be about $28 million worth of paving on secondary roadways for the 2012 season, and that work comes to 175 lane miles," said VDOT spokesperson Joan Morris to Patch.
There are about 10,000 lane miles of secondary roads in Northern Virginia. One money-saver for Fairfax County residents is the recent reclassification of the Fairfax County, Franconia-Springfield and Prince William Parkways from secondary to primary roads.
On Feb. 15, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell reported that VDOT was on-time and on-budget for all construction and maintenance projects during the last quarter of 2011. "This is especially significant since so many additional projects and project phases are under way following our historic investment in transportation made during last year’s General Assembly session, advancing more than 900 projects," he said. "VDOT’s continued focus on delivering projects on time and on budget is ensuring that taxpayers’ investments in transportation are achieving the greatest possible benefit.”
Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton made a similar statement. “As VDOT has transformed into a leaner, more efficient agency, it is a great achievement that it is once again meeting these project and budget targets to provide Virginia with the best return on the investment of our transportation funding,” he said.
The Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission will next meet on March 6.