“Generally, the bridge projects are important to us for two reasons - access for school buses, and we’re the largest agricultural county in Virginia,” Mr. Paxton said. “There are a large number of poultry, dairy and beef cattle operations that need access to agriculture-related vehicles that need the big bridges.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Perriello, Virginia Democrat, whose district received $12 million of the $28 million of the bridge-replacement money distributed in Virginia, said the rural work is an appropriate use of the stimulus money.
“This is another example of how the Recovery Act is working efficiently,” said Jessica Barba, spokeswoman for Mr. Perriello. “Rural communities generally are the hardest hit in a budget crunch for these investments.”
Transportation funding accounted for the second-largest expenditure of Recovery Act funds as of March 2, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. The report found that most states were focusing transportation funding on road and bridge repairs, rather than planning and design, because they were seeking projects that would have “employment impacts and could be implemented quickly.”
Nearly all the bridges are listed by VDOT as structurally deficient, meaning they are still safe to travel on but have “significant issues” that need attention. One is listed as functionally obsolete, which means the bridge was built to standards of the time but is now out of date.
Three more are not listed in either category.
The federal Recovery Act said eligible bridges had to be listed in one of the two categories, but allows for exceptions for preventive maintenance.
Mr. Caldwell said the three unlisted bridges are expected to land on the structurally deficient list at their next inspection.
Over the next two years, Virginia expects to receive a total of $695 million in highway and bridge funding, $4 million in rail modernization and $112 million in rural and urban transit capital grants.
The projects’ funding has been approved by VDOT but hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation yet. Contracts are expected to be awarded this summer.
In Cumberland County, the Rock Creek Road bridge leads to a gravel road with seven houses and even more cattle. Five cars passed over the 30-foot bridge during a two-hour period one recent afternoon.
Two residents of Rock Creek Road said they hadn’t realized the bridge was in disrepair and were not sure that was the best use of the estimated $340,000 repair cost.
“I didn’t know it was broken, but I’m happy they’re spending the money if it needs to be fixed,” said Ann Baxter, who lives in the house closest to what she called the “little” bridge. “But I’d rather have the road paved.”