- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Virginia transportation officials say they are considering whether to delay some construction projects to focus on repairing roads damaged by Hurricane Isabel.

Hurricane-related repairs and cleanup are expected to cost the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) $100 million, $26 million more than the department budgeted for weather-related emergencies for the entire year.

In 2002, the department budgeted $74 million for emergencies, then spent $175 million just on snow removal. To cover the shortage, the agency had to dip into the $900 million road maintenance fund. The fund will be tapped again for this year’s emergency repairs, at least initially, VDOT officials said.

Transportation officials are working closely with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover as much of the emergency costs as possible, VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Neale told the Daily Press of Newport News.

“But right now, it’s too early to tell when we would be reimbursed and how much,” she said.

The state probably will not get a 100 percent reimbursement, said Barbara Reese, VDOT’s chief financial officer.

“There is about a 50-50 split between the roads that qualify for federal aid and those that do not,” she said. “I cannot recall a time where we received all of our [emergency] costs back from the federal government.”

For example, two-lane secondary roads that have been damaged do not qualify.

Immediately after the hurricane, VDOT asked the FHA for $25 million. As of last week, the department had received only $1 million.

“The [FHA] has been clear in saying it does not have the money,” Mrs. Reese said.

Whatever money the federal agencies can pull together for Virginia might take years to arrive. The FHA still was working on paying other states for past storms, Mrs. Reese said.

Because most of the repairs cannot wait until assistance arrives, Mrs. Reese said, “the cash-flow issues are what we are trying to work through right now.”

As a result, the state could postpone building new roads.

“Think of the budget as three different pieces of a pie — construction, maintenance, and administration and operations,” Mrs. Reese said. “We are looking at each piece. We’re starting the [construction] assessment now.”

“We are looking at projects scheduled to go to advertisement next year and [seeing] if they can be delayed,” she said.

But delaying road projects won’t be the only answer, she said, because it will not bring a dollar-for-dollar savings..

“The reality of the department’s construction program is that we are basically doing safety projects and congestion-relief projects,” Mrs. Reese said. “And 65 percent of our construction program is federally funded. Interstate projects are 95 percent federally funded.”


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