- Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 22:35
- Published on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 22:35
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County gets details on new legislation’s possible effects
The Board of Supervisors heard more on Aug. 7 that under recently-enacted state legislation, the county would likely be on the hook for reimbursing the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) nearly a half a million dollars for costs incurred by the state so far, for the planned improvements at Owens.
That’s if the county decides to ask VDOT to cancel the project and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) were to agree. Supervisors might be satisfied if the project were canceled, because they are not in favor of the project as it stands.
But they would be loath to pay that amount to the state, though none of the Supervisors have so far ruled out that option. In the meantime, it is still being investigated to see if payback would be required, including if the project is stopped due to lack of state funding.
The project is to widen a portion of Dahlgren Road (Route 206) at the intersections with Owens Drive (Route 624) and Windsor Drive (Route 218). It calls for acquisition of land from at least 30 property owners, taking some large and small swaths of land from businesses and residences, many to within three feet of their front doors. VDOT documents indicate that 80 percent of the $4,100,000 project budget is coming from federal funding and 20 percent from the state.
NO RESPONSE FROM VDOT TO COUNTY’S JULY 19 LETTER
At this point, the county is still waiting for any response or acknowledgement of the state’s receipt of a July 19 letter asking VDOT to suspend the planned Dahlgren Road project for 90 days.
It’s unclear whether VDOT officials up or down the line have even started that time-clock for delay. The purpose of the requested hold is to allow the county time to further review the project and to assess legal and financial issues.
The letter went to Cord Sterling, member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) representing the Fredericksburg District and was copied to VDOT officials up the line, including
Fredericksburg District Administer Quintin Elliott, Assistant District Administrator for Preliminary Engineering Michelle Shropshire, and Northern Neck Residency Administrator David Brown, along with all members of the county Board of Supervisors.
It reiterated that the county Board “neither requested nor agrees with this project, at least not as proposed.” The letter also refers to “VDOT’s recent information that the proposal does not even address a current concern.” Finally, the letter also asks VDOT to “evaluate additional options for reducing the amount of right-of-way and easements needed for the project.”
Several of those options were put forward at a July 10 work session with Shropshire and Brown, who basically ignored them.
That was the meeting when Shropshire estimated the amount spent so far at $463,000, and it is unclear whether the project is considered on hold by those firms contracted to advance the purchase of right-of-way from the more than 30 identified properties caught up in the planned project.
But it is also unclear whether the county would be liable to reimburse VDOT, if the project is not completed due to lack of state funding under the new legislation and spending priorities for VDOT’s dwindling funds.
The new spending formula is not considered fully funded at the state level. Supervisors Dale Sisson and Joe Grzeika had already discussed at county meetings what they had heard from VDOT’s District Administer Quintin Elliott while attending meetings of the George Washington Regional Commission, saying that there is not expected to be funding to complete the Dahlgren Road project.
Confirmation of that news came from county attorney Matt Britton at the Aug. 7 meeting in a lengthy report where he reviewed the new legislation, which made numerous changes to several sections of state Code in the ongoing scheme for eventual “devolution” by the state to shift its responsibility for maintenance of secondary roads to localities.
Dahlgren Road is designated as a primary road, but the planned project doesn’t appear to fit any of the spending formula descriptions in the new priority established by the latest laws.
Britton also noted that some of the language in the law is unclear, also saying that portions of the original bill were deleted prior to passage that affect funding priorities set in other sections that were enacted into law.
The ‘off-the-top’ spending formula part of the new legislation delineates the funding priorities to be allocated each year at the not-too-exceed amount of $500,000,000. The state highway funds are to be allocated as follows:
25 percent to bridge reconstruction and rehabilitation;
25 percent to advancing high priority projects statewide;
25 percent to reconstructing deteriorated interstate and primary system pavements determined to have a “Combined Condition Index of less than 60”;
15 percent to projects undertaken pursuant to the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995;
Five percent to paving unpaved roads carrying more than 200 vehicles per day; and,
Five percent to smart roadway technology.
Add to that the fact that Britton said the new funding formula “appears to trump the current funding formula in the rest of the statute, which provides for certain allocations to go to interstate, primary and secondary roads.” So, it is predicted that there won’t be money left for any additional projects once the $500,000,000 comes off the top for the new designated priorities above.
REDESIGNATE DAHLGREN ROAD?
At the early August meeting, Supervisor Ruby Brabo also resurrected a notion that Sisson had suggested to Brown and Shropshire back on July 10, to see if Dahlgren Road might be re-designated to a secondary road.
Because Dahlgren Road is a primary arterial road and not a secondary road, it does not come within the county’s decision-making process.
But VDOT’s website defines a primary road as, “two-to-six-lane roads that connect cities and towns with each other and with interstates.” Dahlgren Road doesn’t do either.
It’s not clear whether the suggestion to investigate the downgrading of the road’s definition will get enough traction for the county to pursue that option. It may, with Grzeika suggesting that the county make changes to its Comprehensive Plan that will result in a conflict with the VDOT 2025 State Highway Plan that calls for Dahlgren Road to become a four-lane divided highway between Route 3 and US 301.