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Posted September 25, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

McDonnell's road to windfall

The $1 billion an audit found the Virginia Department of Transportation is sitting on is akin to hitting the lottery jackpot for Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Casting about for ways to upgrade the state's sclerotic, deteriorating roads while adhering to his pledge not to raise taxes, McDonnell has focused on privatizing the state's liquor stores, which he hopes will fetch at least $458 million for a "transportation infrastructure bank."

But the independent VDOT audit he ordered, over the objection of Senate Democrats, turned up twice that amount: $400 million in construction and maintenance accounts and $654 million in unallocated federal funds.

The reserves grew from $8 million in 2005 to $529 million in 2010, a level McDonnell said was "unrealistic."

The auditors recommended keeping a $200 million reserve, about two months' worth.
The 150-page audit makes more than 50 recommendations, including faster approval of less complicated projects, better communication between agency offices and more expeditious hiring of consultants.

It also found that the state was also slow to use the Obama administration's stimulus money although most of it is targeted for worthwhile long-range projects.

Although the audit was critical of former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, he managed to find a silver lining in the report, praising his administration's "tight-fisted management and sharp reduction in overhead [that put] cash in the bank to pay for projects ... as they are built."

Yet the $9 million in savings Kaine achieved by closing 19 interstate rest areas seems minuscule and fatuous when VDOT had much larger sums lying around.

The windfall is a welcome infusion of much-needed capital, and the prospect of better, more nimble VDOT management is encouraging.

At best, though, both are only small steps toward solving the state's gaping, long-term transportation needs.


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