A Glimpse into Virginia’s Road Maintenance Future?

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Transportation has thoroughly documented the declining condition of Virginia roads (see the graph in this post) and the shrinking resources to pay for them. If you want to see what happens when you defer maintenance long enough, go to the City of Richmond. You’ll get a good feel for Virginia’s transportation future a few years from now unless current policy or funding changes.

The city would have to spend nearly $277 million to address the “legacy issue” of years of inadequate funding for road maintenance and reconstruction, reports the Times-Dispatch, drawing upon the findings of a city audit. Two thirds of the city’s streets are in need of major rehabilitation or repair.

How did that happen? Over the past five years, the city has budgeted only $2 million to $6.5 million yearly for road maintenance, far less than the $10 million needed. Next year, the Department of Public Works (DPW) expects to request $11 million, but at that rate it will take “several decades” to get streets back into proper condition, the newspaper quotes auditor Umesh V. Dalal as saying.

Stop gap measures to fill potholes accelerates the natural deterioration of roads, increasing the cost of maintenance in later years. “The National Center for Pavement Preservation indicates that every $1 spent on pavement preservation when pavements are in good condition eliminates or delays spending $6 to $10 on rehabilitation or reconstruction later when the pavement quality has deteriorated badly,” states the report.

The DPW has the tools to keep track of road conditions but hasn’t been using them. The department spent $9,000 on a pavement management system called Cartegraph in 2005. Despite paying annual maintenance fees of $1,800 yearly, the department hasn’t touched  the system since the former pavement engineer retired in 2007. “Currently, no one in the Department has the credentials (password, user ID, etc) to access the system, so the system is not being used,” the auditors note. Not that it would make much difference. Rather than asking for the funds it needs, DPW administrators have been submitting budget requests for what they thought they could get.

Will the situation ever get this bad for the rest of Virginia? Hopefully not. VDOT has an asset-management system and uses it to prioritize maintenance spending. Also, due to policy embedded in state law, VDOT funds a higher percentage of maintenance needs than Richmond has been doing. But roadway conditions are deteriorating and VDOT is under pressure to siphon off maintenance funds to help pay for new construction projects. Without a sustainable, long-term source of revenue for maintenance funding, Virginia’s roads one day might end up looking like Richmond’s. If you think roads are expensive now, just wait.

Not that the City of Richmond does everything wrong… The city puts a lot of its GIS information online. You can download aps and maps, and even submit your own aps. Maybe someone should devise one that shows where the worst potholes are!

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5 responses to “A Glimpse into Virginia’s Road Maintenance Future?”

  1. So why does no one in Virginia have the [xxxxx] to take on the trucking industry and make overweight trucks pay for the damage they cause to Virginia’s roads and bridges? What creates more damage, overweight trucks or automobiles?

  2. TMT, I agree with you. Truckers ought to pay a motor fuels tax rate that is proportional to the damage they cause on roads. If they don’t, you can credit the effectiveness of Virginia’s trucking lobby.

  3. why would we allow trucks over the design weight limit of the roads to start with?

    why not set the weight limit and enforce it – period?

    I’m not surprised that Richmond is letting it’s roads crudify…. but I’d be curious to know how Henrico and Arlington are doing on that issue.

    we still have a lack of transparency on the revenues and expenditures related to fuel taxes.

    I’m betting for a given county – that people 1. – don’t know how much they generate in gas taxes ( like they do know for sales taxes) – and 2. they have no idea how much is spent on maintenance and operations …..

    until people actually know this – their basic response is based on ignorance of the facts and they will continue to believe that the pay TOO MUCH ALREADY and it is either 1. being wasted or 2. being “diverted” to other jurisdictions … so no dice on higher taxes….

  4. this is a bigger perspective comment….

    these days four things seem to be almost universally true:

    1. – no matter what the issue is – we seek to blame someone for it other than ourselves

    2. – we have lost faith in most of our govt and private institutions

    3. – any kind of collective bargaining that seeks better benefits and job security is un-American – unions should be outlawed

    4. – illegal immigration is the political equivalent of herpes

    4. –

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