Virginia DOT budget finalizes rest area closings

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Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board last week adopted the Virginia Department of Transportation’s maintenance and operations budget for fiscal year 2010. This action finalizes VDOT’s reduction to services, including reducing 42 rest areas and welcome centers to 23; reducing $20 million of mowing and roadside maintenance; scaling back interstate maintenance contracts; reducing safety service patrols; and closing VDOT residency offices and equipment shops.

The program reflects $650 million in cuts to the highways and $880 million in reductions to rail and transit. CTB says the highway declines are largely a result of continued state and federal revenue shortfalls, while the transit and rail declines are mainly attributed to the transfer of $776 million in Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project funding to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

“The commonwealth is facing a crisis in transportation funding,” says Pierce R. Homer, Virginia secretary of transportation. “These drastic reductions reflect our ongoing challenge to meet federal obligations and state maintenance needs while experiencing drastic declines in state and federal revenues. We are fortunate to have been able to maintain our rail and transit programs and services.”

VDOT will reduce the total number of rest areas it operates from 42 to 23, electing to retain six rest areas initially slated to close; these include four facilities along the Interstate 81 corridor (Radford south, Ironto north, Fairfield south and New Market north) and two truck-only facilities in Dale City in Northern Virginia. VDOT says these changes represent $9 million in annual savings.

The department will address truck parking concerns by retaining the two I-95 Dale City truck-only facilities and replacing the “two-hour” commercial parking rule in rest areas with “no overnight parking.” VDOT says this will allow truck drivers to better manage their mandated 10-hour rest periods so long as they do not park in any facility from dusk through dawn within any 24-hour period. VDOT says it will replace 225 truck parking spaces lost to facility closures by reconfiguring parking lots at some remaining facilities.

VDOT also outlined the final listing of planned facility closures, including 15 VDOT field administrative units – called residencies – and streamlining equipment shops, materials labs and operations centers. These closures will begin this year as the agency reconfigures its operations to reflect long-term reductions in the number of construction projects, workload, staffing and equipment needs.

“These are not easy decisions to make,” says David. S. Ekern, VDOT commissioner. “It is a sobering reality that we cannot balance our budget with the drastic reduction to the construction program. We must also scale back on services to motorists. Even with these sacrifices, we still face the need for a significant reorganization that will shrink VDOT’s staffing by 1,000 full-time and 450 part-time employees.”

The commonwealth says it will continue to pursue federal legislation changes necessary to allow future rest area commercialization, currently prohibited by law.