- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Arlington County and other Virginia jurisdictions that own and maintain their roads would have to “pre-clear” their local transportation plans with the state under a budget amendment proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, a move now drawing heat from county officials.

The amendment removes language that had exempted the localities from the requirements in a transportation package passed this year by the General Assembly.

Arlington officials were none too pleased about the prospect.

Mary Hynes, chairwoman of the Arlington County Board, said the county was “very disappointed” with the amendment, adding that it would hamstring communities like Arlington and others that have specifically tailored transportation needs for their constituents.

“Moving this to Richmond, we’re having a great deal of difficulty understanding how that’s going to allow those of us who have control to continue to build vibrant, walkable communities across the commonwealth,” she said.

Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton, though, said the proposal is merely designed to bring the localities in line with rules for other jurisdictions across the state.

“The legislation passed by the General Assembly this year really just put a little more teeth behind localities’ transportation plans,” Mr Connaughton said. “The governor believes we will try to be as consistent as possible across the state, and that’s why this proposal’s been made.”

Most of the state’s cities and towns maintain their own local roads and would be affected by the amendment. Henrico County is the only other county besides Arlington that maintains its own roads in Virginia. The state is now paying Arlington and Henrico counties about $17,000 and $9,400 per lane mile, respectively, to maintain their own secondary roads, while the state still maintains interstates and primary roads. That worked out to a quarterly payment of $4.1 million to Arlington and $8 million for Henrico over the past two years.

C. Michael Schnurman Jr., the legislative liaison for Henrico County, said the bill does address a problem - but that counties that pay for their own roads are not part of it.

“The problem they’re trying to fix is that there are those localities out there who have the incentive to grow and develop and are allowed to push the cost of those growth and transportation solutions onto VDOT,” he said. “Arlington and Henrico do not fall into that. It’s not just that we maintain the roads; they’re our roads. I hope the General Assembly remembers the reason the language was put in the budget to begin with.”

Indeed, the item was inserted into the budget to ensure that Arlington and Henrico would be exempted from requirements faced by other localities in the transportation package that passed the legislature this year, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican.

“It’s not the sort of thing that I think is essential,” he said. “I think anyone who’s responsible for their own roads … would not want to have to submit plans to VDOT.”

In fact, Ms. Hynes said, the amendment runs counter to Mr. McDonnell’s goal of lessening state interference in local affairs.

“We see this as a fundamentally local responsibility, and actually think it’s kind of the opposite of what Governor McDonnell said he was trying to accomplish in this session, which was to get the state out of our business and let us go ahead and do the work we need to do,” she said.

Much to the relief of several Northern Virginia localities, and many others, though, Mr. McDonnell did not propose any amendments related to studying “devolution,” a process by which the cost of paying for and maintaining roads would be pushed from the state onto localities.

The General Assembly will return to Richmond Monday to act on Mr. McDonnell’s proposed amendments to the state’s $85 billion spending plan for the next two years, as well as the “caboose budget” that revises the one that ends June 30. He has proposed more than 100 amendments overall, totaling $44 million.

Mr. McDonnell’s amendments restore $19.5 million for economic development out of about $47 million that was removed by the General Assembly this year, preserve $881 million in new funding for K-12 and higher education, and provide an additional $2.7 million to recruit teachers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields and fully fund the state’s third-grade reading program, among other things.