Winter Hit VDOT Hard, First Agency ’Report Card’ Shows

Mon April 28, 2003 - National Edition

RICHMOND (AP) The harsh winter cost the cash-strapped Virginia Department of Transportation more than double its budget for snow removal and emergency repairs and left it unable to finish projects due last winter, VDOT announced recently.

Five statewide snow emergencies and nine lesser regional ones cost the agency $165.7 million for plowing roads and fixing the damage done to roads and bridges by the ice and flooding, VDOT said.

The total budget for handling those problems was less than half of that – $74 million.

The overrun means that to meet its highway maintenance needs through June, the end of the current fiscal year, VDOT will have to take $42 million that would have been available for road construction projects next year, VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet told the Commonwealth Transportation Board at a meeting in Chantilly.

"This will have no impact on current construction projects. It will only reduce an increase in the construction program for next fiscal year," Shucet said.

The coldest, snowiest Virginia winter in years drove the cost of snow removal alone to $124 million as of March 31, nearly triple the $48 million budgeted for it. Handling highway emergencies cost $30.5 million compared with the budgeted $16 million. Snow preparedness cost $1.2 million more than the budgeted $10 million.

The winter also brought progress on new highway construction nearly to a standstill, according to the agency’s second "report card" grading its performance in several key areas.

None of the projects due for completion the first three months of 2003 came in on time, according to the report card.

Since last July, when the agency began grading itself, VDOT has brought in 28 percent of its projects in on schedule. Seventy-two percent of the projects came in within 120 days of their original completion date.

For the first three months of this year, 39 percent of its contracted projects came in within budgets allowed for them.

Shucet, who took over the agency a year ago, instituted the quarterly report cards in response to criticism that the agency for years had allowed projects to come in late and exceed budgets.