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Now that state leaders have approved funding, they should restore construction aid for municipal roads.
Friday, September 6, 2013
When Virginia’s transportation revenues dwindled to a trickle, the state’s funding formula didn’t make much sense. Divvying up the piece of the transportation budget earmarked for the 86 cities, towns and large counties that own and maintain their own roads didn’t give any community enough to do much more than fill a pothole or two with pennies.
So last year, legislators passed a law that temporarily changed the formula in an effort to steer the few dollars available toward initiatives they deemed most crucial. They gave the Commonwealth Transportation Board the power to spend up to $500 million annually on priorities that included bridge rehabilitation, paving state-managed roads and public-private partnerships.
Under the previous formula, urban highways received 30 percent of new construction dollars, but the change mattered little to communities at the time. Their share had been eliminated for three years due to lack of funds, notes the Virginia Municipal League. No matter how the state sliced the budget pie, localities got nothing.
But this year, legislators and Gov. Bob McDonnell finally came to their senses and acknowledged that new road revenues were needed. The new dollars are starting to roll in, but the temporary formula adopted last year remains in effect, and that means urban highways will be zeroed out yet again.
In fact, urban communities won’t see any new construction dollars for their highways until 2017, and then just $22 million will be available for those 86 localities to share, although those able to come up with matching funds can draw down some state help through a revenue-sharing program.
Before the bottom dropped out of the transportation budget in 2009, Roanoke typically received about $5 million annually for urban highway projects, according to city transportation manager Mark Jamison. Like many municipalities, the city hasn’t been able to replace the lost state aid with local dollars, although it participates in the revenue-sharing program. Roanoke is already propping up street maintenance needs using its own revenues.
Among the priorities that have fallen by the wayside are improvements to Colonial Avenue between Brandon Avenue and Virginia Western Community College, and upgrades to Campbell Avenue east of Williamson Road.
The 2012 law suggests the CTB has flexibility in its use of the temporary formula, and if so, its members should do what they can to free up some cash for languishing urban highway projects. They should also be an active voice in support of changes to the law restoring long-standing funding formulas now that the money crunch is easing.
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