In N. Va., so many roads, so little repair money from VDOT: $1,024 in one case

George Dodson of VDOT looks out for traffic as Pothole Killers, a contractor, works near Braddock and Stone roads in Centreville.
George Dodson of VDOT looks out for traffic as Pothole Killers, a contractor, works near Braddock and Stone roads in Centreville. (Jahi Chikwendiu/the Washington Post)
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By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010

If you're a commuter in Northern Virginia this summer, your drive will get a bit longer.

Virginia officials have eliminated much of the commonwealth's funding for regional secondary-road programs -- in use since the state's Transportation Department was founded a century ago to maintain rural and suburban arteries -- because of another budget crunch. Now, dozens of road improvements and repairs across Northern Virginia, including some under construction, will grind to a halt by July and August, resulting in still-worsening congestion for many arterial roads that feed into the region's already clogged highways.

A Washington Post analysis of the delayed and canceled road projects throughout Northern Virginia, including lane widening and traffic-calming measures, shows that at least $67.7 million worth of road projects are slowing down or have been scratched because of the state's June budget decision to focus on existing primary road projects that receive matching federal money.

"This is the perfect storm we've been talking about for years," said Kathy Ichter, Fairfax County's transportation director. "There's a false perception out there that we have all of these new construction projects, but that's only the primary roads already in the pipeline. We have no new projects in the pipeline, and now you're going to start to feel it."

Some of the casualties: a new traffic light to reduce congestion on Wakefield Chapel Road near Northern Virginia Community College's Annandale campus; a $6 million tunnel on Franconia Road to run under South Van Dorn Street in Alexandria; and fixes to the century-old Aden Road Bridge in Nokesville, which has been deemed structurally deficient for years.

State officials say their hands are tied. "We are seeing the secondary-road pavements continue to age and deteriorate, and we simply do not have enough resources at this time to address those needs," said Jeff Caldwell, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman.

The traffic problems will be especially acute in Northern Virginia, home to 1.1 million commuters, as many primary and highway projects remain funded while nearly 44 percent of the area's 10,207 miles of secondary roads are still deemed deficient by the state, the highest in Virginia.

And the worst of it will slam Loudoun County, where more than 60 percent of suburban roads are deficient -- defined as pavement that is so deeply pitted and rutted that it should require immediate asphalt repair. The county's secondary-road budget from the state next year: $1,024.

"It is unconscionable that the fifth-fastest-growing locality in the United States will receive $1,024 over the next six years towards its secondary road system," Loudoun Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg), the chairman of the board's transportation and land-use committee, wrote in a letter to the state. "Loudoun's needs alone will require tens of millions of dollars."

Among the Loudoun projects on hold is the planned widening of Belmont Ridge Road from two to four lanes from the Dulles Greenway to Route 7, one of the most dangerous stretches of in the region. In 2009, 73 traffic accidents were reported at Belmont Ridge Road and Route 7.

The budget shortfall will exacerbate some safety issues, said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, and the funding gaps will affect everything from the repair of traffic lights and signals to the installation of guardrails.

"If someone had stolen the zeros off of VDOT's budget, they wouldn't have been able to do their budget," he said. "What we're watching here is a disaster in slow motion. We're talking about years of neglect that have now gotten increasingly severe."

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