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The Commonwealth Transportation Board is examining the funding formula used for urban road repairs in cities and towns.
Monday, July 8, 2013
Local government leaders never know from one day to the next what trendy transportation policies will waft this way from Richmond.
Until recently, devolution was all the rage among some state officials tired of the endless debate over highway funding.
They were eager to dump all road maintenance responsibilities onto counties as a means to deflect some of the griping.
But now that Gov. Bob McDonnell and the legislature have approved new revenues for roads, talk has turned to whether the state should increase its control over local road maintenance decisions.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees state road and rail policies, is looking at whether to change a funding formula for urban roads in order to funnel more money into priority needs, presumably defined by the panel, rather than divvying up money that now goes to cities and towns.
Concerns that those dollars aren’t always being spent wisely seem to center on the northern half of the state. In the Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia areas, more than half of locally maintained primary roads have deficient pavement, compared to just 20 percent of roads statewide maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. (Roads in the Salem District are looking pretty good, with roughly a quarter falling short of pavement standards.)
After years in which state highways have been starved for cash, it’s worthwhile to remember that taxpayers have an interest in making sure the new dollars they’re shelling out will be spent efficiently and invested in projects that relieve congestion and promote safety. But a localized concern over pavement conditions doesn’t translate into a need for a statewide change in the maintenance funding formula, and VDOT staff have recommended against it.
Cities and towns get paid more per mile for maintenance than VDOT spends on upkeep, but the streets under local care have more traffic lights, median strips, sidewalks, curbing, pedestrian crossings, manholes and fire hydrants that drive up costs.
More important, VDOT analysts noted that 71 of the 86 cities and towns reviewed spend more on road maintenance than they receive in state aid. Statewide, they spent $105 million on top of the $350.6 million dispensed from Richmond in 2011. That’s not an anomaly. Roanoke received $12.1 million in 2012 and spent more than $14.7 million on maintenance.
State officials should not mess with funding formulas without just cause at the very moment that there are real revenues available. Unless they can present evidence of a systemic problem, they should move on to other issues, while local governments brace for the next trend to blow in from Richmond.
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