Prince William County will no longer be allowed to use state transportation funds to improve existing rural roads if it continues to approve new roads that do not meet state standards, transportation officials said.
On July 1, the Virginia Department of Transportation will begin enforcing minimum standards for roads -- rules that have been in place since 1949 but not enforced. Some jurisdictions, including Prince William, still have subdivision ordinances that allow roads to be built with lower standards, said Michael Estes, director of VDOT's local assistance division.
The Rural Addition program allows jurisdictions to use state highway construction funds to help bring the roads to state standards so that they can be maintained by VDOT, instead of individual homeowners. VDOT maintenance includes snowplowing in winter. Through the state funds, Prince William provides 50 percent of the cost of construction, while residents requesting improvement of the roads pay the other 50 percent. A county matching grant program helps residents cover those costs through a special tax assessment, said Tom Blaser, the county's transportation chief.
VDOT wants developers to build subdivisions with roads meeting state standards, said Tom Fahrney, VDOT's transportation manager for Prince William. "The intent of the Rural Addition program was to bring existing roads to state standards, not roads that are being built now," he said.
Roads that have recently benefited from the program, such as Circuit Court and Foremost Court in Nokesville, will not get paved if the county keeps its old laws on the books, Blaser said.
Prince William's Design and Construction Standards Manual does not require subdivisions with lots of 10 acres or larger to build roads to VDOT standards. It also does not require rural roads to be built to VDOT standards.
Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, said the rustic roads, often gravel or dirt, never posed a problem in the past since families lived clustered on out-of-the-way properties and maintained their own roads.
"Traditionally, a lot of the development in the rural areas was family subdivisions," he said. "Given the low density and low cost, it didn't seem to make a lot of sense" to require state standards.
But increasing development in rural areas and demands from residents to have roads that will be plowed in the winter and maintained by VDOT has created a dilemma, he said. "The state is essentially putting this issue squarely in front of us now, and the board is going to have to make a decision," Connaughton said.
Although July 1 is the deadline, Estes said the state is giving jurisdictions that show an effort toward changing their ordinances an extension. "We're trying to work with them," he said.
Standards vary from road to road, depending on the volume of traffic and other factors, the transportation officials said.
To become eligible for state maintenance, the street generally has to have been built before 1992, serve at least three homes, be available to the public 24 hours a day and be wide enough for public use, usually 40 feet, according to VDOT.