VDOT Proposal Would Contract Out Road Maintenance

Wed November 22, 2006 - Southeast Edition
CEG



HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) A Virginia Department of Transportation plan to close nearly 100 maintenance centers across the state is being criticized by lawmakers who say it will hold up road repairs during the winter.

VDOT wants to eliminate 91 maintenance sites across the state by 2008 and hire private contractors to maintain the interstates, department officials announced. Approximately 50 workers would be eliminated in the move, spokeswoman Sandy Myers said.

Officials say it’s part of a strategy to reduce costs while still providing the same level of service. The changes could save from $4 million to $6 million per year and will boost efficiency by having facilities in the areas they serve most.

“It makes good business sense,” Myers said.

But some Harrisonburg lawmakers argue the plan doesn’t save much money and roads will suffer.

The plan would close the Chimney Rock center and two storage lots in Rockingham County. Fourteen people work at the facility.

“Every parent ought to have an interest in this,” said state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who was concerned about school buses traveling over pothole-riddled roads.

In a recent letter to VDOT Commissioner David Ekern, Obenshain pointed out that each winter, poor road conditions lead to several school closures. Without a maintenance facility nearby, more closures are likely, he wrote.

Most of the major changes won’t begin until the spring — after prime snowfall season — and Ekern has scheduled 12 public meetings statewide later this month to explain the changes, which they hope to approve by mid-December.

The agency also has signed a three-year deal with a company to plow snow, patch potholes and cut the grass along 67 miles of Interstate 64 between Hampton and Richmond.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a law this year mandating that all maintenance services be outsourced by July 1, 2009, and the changes are a step in that direction.