Supervisors critical of road funding plan

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders aren’t buying the state’s new way of funding road projects.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials spoke to the Board of Supervisors on Thursday about the new scoring system created by legislation overwhelmingly supported by the General Assembly.

House Bill 2 requires the implementation of a performance-based, priority scoring process for the evaluation of transportation projects that use state and federal funding, district planner Terry Short explained. Some types of projects are exempt from this process. Factors that go into the scoring include congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality.

The first round of scoring for projects submitted to VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board begins in July 2016 for fiscal 2017. The five factors carry a different weight depending on a community’s desired area type that range from dense, urban center to rural. Factor weights vary from one area type to another. The Commonwealth Transportation Board then selects projects to fund in the Six-Year Improvement Program.

Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley voiced his skepticism about the new system compared to the old.

“I understand the plan: We’re on the short end of the stick,” Helsley said.

“I have found out, from being on the board, that the words ‘performance-based, priority scoring’ will mean that most of the money will go to Northern Virginia because they have congestion mitigation and so we’re going to be left with a small amount of money for our projects … ,” Helsley said.

The factors carry different weight depending on the type of area, Short said. Shenandoah County is classified as type B, but officials likely will ask VDOT to change the local typology to D.

“It’s our only chance,” Helsley said.

Short said there’s an effort to create a unified typology for the area.

“I will tell you at a staff level we are doing all we can and I know at a district level I can assure you we are doing all we can to represent your interest,” Short said.

Chairman David Ferguson said he didn’t feel that switching to type D would help secure funding because the county lacks a commercial corridor like Warren County’s.

“Shenandoah County’s need is to take care of the roads that they have for residential, business use, not necessarily for these major intersections like Northern Virginia and the congestion that they have there,” Ferguson said.

The new system doesn’t address the county’s vast number of unpaved roads, Ferguson said.

“This doesn’t take into consideration that we will not improve our road system in Shenandoah County in the near future, if in my lifetime, because this system only addresses some key point issues and if you score high in those then that’s where the transportation funds are gonna go,” Ferguson said. “So I don’t think it’s equitable to a rural county like Shenandoah County.”

Another piece of legislation adopted in the session removes the long-standing funding formula and the primary, secondary and urban construction programs. The legislation sets up a new formula effective July 1, 2020, that creates three programs: state of good repair, district grant and high-priority projects.

If the typologies of the planning districts change, all 11 counties in VDOT’s Staunton District would compete at category D. Metropolitan Planning Districts such as the one for Frederick County-Winchester, would compete at a category C. At the district level, Winchester would compete against Waynesboro, Staunton against Harrisonburg, etc., Short explained.

VDOT Assistant Residency Administrator Ed Carter explained that Shenandoah County would only have to compete among the counties in the district for the percentage that is set aside as a grant.

In years past, Shenandoah County received reports from the state showing how much to expect in road-improvement funds, based on VDOT estimates. The VDOT officials concurred with Helsley that the new system does not provide that estimate.

“There’s no guarantee that we’ll get much of anything,” Helsley said. “We used to have dollars that we could depend on.”

“Those go away,” Short said.

“How does not even having something we can bank on [benefit the county], when we were going to take care of roads, put them in the rural-rustic road program?” Ferguson said.

The localities in the Staunton District would compete for approximately $30 million based on revenue projections, Carter said. Helsley pointed out that isn’t much.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com