VDOT’s Allan Sumpter briefs the Board on his agency’s 44% reduction in funding

At a March 5, 2008 work session on the County’s Six Year Secondary Road Plan, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors continued to lament the reduction in funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation as they heard how those reductions could further slow down a project to improve Jarman’s Gap Road. But the Board directed VDOT to reallocate nearly $1 million in funding to pave a portion of Dickerson Road north of the Charlottesville Airport, clearing the way for a parallel road to Route 29.

The Board also heard further details from Allan Sumpter, the administrator of VDOT’s Charlottesville residency, on how the

recently announced 44% reduction in state funding for road construction

would affect the financing of the County’s top three transportation priorities.


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The Six Year Secondary Road Plan is used to communicate the County’s transportation priorities to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and to citizens. The plan is reviewed each year by County staff,

the Planning Commission

, and the

Board of Supervisors

.

A public hearing will be held later this week

.

At the work session, the Board reaffirmed several changes that have been made since January.  According to David Benish, the County’s chief planner, the Board directed staff to:

VDOT’s Rural Rustic program allows for rural roads to be paved at a slightly lower design standard, meaning projects can be done more cheaply. Four projects are currently underway and will be completed by the end of the next fiscal year, according to Benish:

However, to complete these projects, the County will only be able to allocate a very small amount of money to pave Dickerson Road, one of two unpaved roads in the County’s designated growth areas.  The other is Rio Mills Road, and in January the Board directed Benish to place Dickerson Road as a higher priority. Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio) had expressed the concern that paving the road would make it easier for trucks at a soon-to-reopen quarry to reach Earlysville Road.





Dickerson Road is one of two unpaved roadways in the County’s development area

The Dickerson Road project is a portion of what former Delegate Mitch Van Yahres proposed in 2005 as a “

Ruckersville Parkway

,” a major parallel road that would be an alternative to a Western Bypass of Route 29. The extension and improvement of parallel roads in Albemarle (like Berkmar Drive and Hillsdale Drive) is intended to relieve traffic congestion on Route 29. However, the Dickerson project would require more than just paving. The total estimated cost is over $11 million, including $7.2 million to upgrade or replace bridges over Jacobs Run and the North Fork of the Rivanna River. In February, VDOT downgraded the North Fork steel truss bridge to a 3 ton weight limit, down from 8 tons.

Chairman

Ken Boyd

(Rivanna) said he has become frustrated as the county continues to put money into projects that never seem to get built.

“I think it’s important that we discuss at least whether Dickerson is ever attainable or it’s just something that’s going to be out there forever,” he said. Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) suggested spending money out of the County’s capital budget to finish the paving of Dickerson, but added he was not sure how the bridges would be funded.

Sumpter acknowledged that the roads would be paid for before the County had enough to pay for the bridges, especially with the funding being directed to the Advance Mills bridge replacement project. Supervisor

Ann Mallek

(White Hall) asked if the County could choose to put in a one-lane bridge on Dickerson instead.

“We can certainly look at options for what our scope is,” Sumpter said. “The question that has to come into play is what is the intent of the road as it goes? From the time that I’ve been here this has been talked about as a very high priority type of parallel roadway, and putting a structure in there that isn’t going to be adequate to carry the amount of traffic, then you’re going to have to revisit it at some point.”

Supervisor

Sally Thomas

(Samuel Miller) reminded her colleagues that the Fontaine-Sunset Avenue Connector is also stalled because of the high cost of the bridges required.

Slutzky suggested reducing the priority for Rio Mills Road down several spots to prevent it from being funded in case the transportation funding picture quickly brightens. Sumpter said the County has already saved up $943,000 for the project. That seemed to catch Supervisors by surprise, and Rooker suggested immediately moving that money to another project. Sumpter said he could do that, and added that Dickerson currently has a million dollars accrued. Supervisors directed Sumpter to allocate all money to Dickerson.


Sumpter provides update on VDOT funding of projects in Six-Year Plan

Supervisors also discussed the projected 44% reduction in funds for road construction, including secondary roads. Sumpter said in the next fiscal year, that translates into a $1.1 million dollar reduction for the County’s secondary road allocation.  Rooker pointed out that meant the County will receive fewer dollars than it did 15 years ago.

Boyd asked if VDOT could provide more information about how much funding each project on the Six Year Plan will receive in the next fiscal year. Sumpter said that information will not be known for certain until after the Commonwealth Transportation Board adopts its transportation plan in June.

“What we’re really looking for you all to do is establish your priority of these projects, and then we will program the money to try to achieve those priorities as best we can,” Sumpter said.

Sumpter went on to explain how the County’s top priorities will be affected by the funding reductions. First, the County’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway will be fully funded by the state of Virginia , and actually shows a surplus. “We had an estimate of around  $25.5 million, and we have around $28.7 million or so appropriated to the project, in the bank, right now.”


Jarman’s Gap Road may see further delays

However, Sumpter said the County’s next priority, the Jarman’s Gap Road improvement project, is a “federal-matching” project, which means the County must match the federal contribution either with its share of state funds or some other source. According to Sumpter, this arrangement means VDOT can’t advertise the project for construction until the County can prove it can fully pay for the improvements by the time it is complete. Currently, that target date is 2012, but the funding reduction could interfere with that timing.

“As it looks now, what I’m anticipating is that we’re probably going to be a million and a half to $2 million short,” Sumpter said. Rooker asked if that meant the project would be pushed back a year or two. Sumpter said that would be a possibility, but encouraged the Board to consider putting more of its own money into the road, and using that money to apply for revenue sharing money from VDOT.  Benish said staff will ask the Board at a later meeting to consider adopting a resolution of intent to do so. However, he said there could be a lot of competition for that money this year. Sumpter said the County would have four years to obtain the match and thus secure funding. He added that the County could opt to spend money out of the CIP, though no decisions on that were made by the Board at this meeting.

One way to improve the chances of getting that funding would be for the County to administer the construction of Jarman’s Gap Road with VDOT handling the right-of-way acquisition, but Benish said the County is not yet prepared to do that. After a long discussion of the possible permutations of funding, Thomas asked if there was a chance the road would be further delayed. Sumpter replied that there were many possible avenues of funding.

Where VDOT’s funding reduction will really affect the County is in the planning for future projects. Only a very little amount of County or VDOT money has been allocated to the priorities below Jarman’s Gap Road.

“It all comes back to when you take away 40% of what was already inadequate and less than we had 10 years ago,” Rooker said. “More and more of the cost of transportation is going to fall on the backs of property taxes.”

Supervisor

Lindsay Dorrier

(Scottsville) said that if the County did too much, the state might cut off funding altogether. Thomas said she used to think that way as well.

“I used to feel more strongly about that, that we had to be careful what we did because they would use it at the state level as an excuse for sloughing off state support, but I’ve decided they’re not paying attention to that at all,” Thomas said. “They’re  just getting rid of their responsibility.

At the close of the discussion, Rooker urged his colleagues to contact Richmond to let them know how they’re disappointed with the reductions in state funding for transportation.

“We need to get people yelling and screaming about the fact that they are eliminating transportation funding for localities slowly but surely,” Rooker said. “It’s gotten to be a joke.”


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