VDOT falling short of road quality goals

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia's roads appear to be crumbling faster than the Virginia Department of Transportation can fix them up. And if that's not surprising, consider that over the next budget cycle, VDOT appears to have little choice but to let some of those roads, get worse.

Faster than a speeding motorist, Virginia's highway needs are growing. Take, for example, Interstate 95.

"The corridor, essentially from Ashland down to Petersburg is actually one of the most unsafe corridors we have in the Commonwealth," said Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.

VDOT has a goal of no more than 18% of state highways be labeled "deficient". But the reality right now, is 20.1% of Interstate pavement is rated deficient. 24.3% of primary pavement is deficient. And 31.1% of secondary pavement is deficient, according to VDOT figures.

So to make the highways safer, it takes money - as in, $709 million next year alone. Problem is VDOT only could budget $318 million.

"We obviously are not meeting, particularly our paving demands, in the secondary system. This is probably, I'm gonna say, the coming crisis for us," Connaughton said.

There would've been more money, but VDOT went $183 million over-budget clearing snow last winter. Connaughton told the Senate Finance Committee that the federal government won't be reimbursing most of that, which led to a sarcastic remark about raising Virginia's low gas tax, currently about 20 cents per gallon.

"So, a penny and a half, which definitely would be noticed by everybody, would solve this problem in an instant? Is what you're telling me?" asked Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

"No, that's what you told me, sir!" Connaughton said, with a chuckle.

Without that additional source of money, VDOT must generate it a different way or trim spending; a fork in the road...that already, is crumbling.

VDOT also is moving forward with plans to install a toll at the North Carolina border. Money from that would, in theory, pay for at least some highway maintenance needs.

Earlier in the Senate Finance Committee meeting, education leaders said Virginia is nearing an "affordability crisis" when it comes to college. Costs for in-state and out-of-state students are going up between 7 and 13%...tacking on hundreds of dollars per semester.

Leaders for Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia's Community Colleges urged lawmakers to consider more aid for higher education in the coming years.

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