Report Details Solutions to Virginia’s Road Maintenance Problems

Posted: July 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm

By Andy Brown and James Greif

Jonathan L. Gifford. Creative Services photo

Almost one-third of Virginia’s secondary road system is currently deficient, and programs designed to attract county participation in construction and maintenance are not working, according to a report published by Mason public policy professor Jonathan L. Gifford.

The report, supported by a contract from Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, also found that the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) secondary construction program has provided minimal funding support for constructing new secondary roads in recent years.

In addition, the report found that control of projects by local governments can significantly improve coordination between transportation and land use, which is difficult under current arrangements.

“The commonwealth’s current secondary road policies are not sustainable,” says Gifford, director of the Transportation Policy, Operations and Logistics program in the School of Public Policy. “There is real potential for counties, particularly those that are urbanized, to benefit by coordinating transportation and land use decisions at a single point, instead of between county and state transportation officials.”

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, JD ’92, sent the study to members of the General Assembly, as well as to localities that host the secondary roads, in order to begin discussions on how to address the problems in the system under current budgetary constrictions.

The Virginia Secondary Roads System was created by the Byrd Road Act of 1932 (named for former Governor Harry F. Byrd) in order to shift financial responsibility of Virginia’s network of secondary roads from the counties to the commonwealth in the wake of the Great Depression. Examples of roads in this system include State Route 620 (Braddock Road), which borders Mason’s Fairfax Campus, and State Route 674 (Wellington Road), which runs near Mason’s Prince William Campus.

In the report, Gifford reviews the commonwealth’s policies and identifies 10 options for improving the condition and operation of the secondary road system in light of continuing reductions in construction and maintenance.

Among the possible solutions are allocating greater resources at the state level and empowering counties to care for their own roads through devolution, which could include statutory authority to raise revenue for road maintenance. In addition, Gifford suggests the commonwealth take advantage of the recommendations and observations in the 2010 VDOT Performance Audit.

Gifford’s full report, “Policy Options for Secondary Road Construction and Management in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” is available online.

An associate dean for research in the School of Public Policy, Gifford’s primary area of expertise is transportation and public policy, with a particular focus on transportation and land use.

Last year, Gifford published “State Infrastructure Banks: A Virginia Perspective,” another report supported by the Virginia transportation secretary that looks at Virginia transportation projects funding.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu