Apres le cul-de-sac

A. Barton Hinkle said “The Kaine Administration’s proposal seems to strike an eminently sensible balance” in his March 27 column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (“Gov. Kaine Proposes a Sensible Cul-de-Sacre Bleu!“).

He was referring to new Secondary Street Acceptance Requirements (Chapter 382 regulations) stating that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will no longer accept cul-de-sac subdivision roads into the state-maintained road network.  New subdivisions must have two entrances/exits.   Developers may build future cul-de-sacs with just one entrance/exit, but VDOT will not maintain those new roads.

Interesting – but I’m waiting for the real bombshell to drop, comparable to the 1949 decision to define minimum standards before the state would agree to maintain new subdivision streets.

I bet there is a paragraph in a VDOT computer now: “Only roads build/improved under the Six-Year Improvement Program will be accepted into the state-maintained system after December 31, 20_ _.  All other new roads built after that date must be maintained at the expense of private landowners or local governments.

When a future governor establishes this policy in a future update to Secondary Street Acceptance Requirements… it could block many subdivisions now planned for fields and forests in Prince William.

At some point in the next decade, after all the financial shell games are exhausted (and after maybe one more tax increase to divert General Fund revenue to transportation), VDOT will run out of money.

First, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will stop new road construction, and direct all revenues to just maintenance of existing roads.  Later, VDOT will predict when maintenance-only costs will exceed all revenues.

One last surge of political effort to raise taxes for roads may succeed, at the expense of other state programs (education, public safety, mental health, parks, etc.).  However, it will be a temporary reprieve.  As fuel-efficient hybrids and other cars replace what we’re driving today, gas tax revenues will drop precipitously over the next decade.

There may be a “crisis,” but there will be no surprise.  VDOT will predict 5-10 years in advance when it will be unable to maintain the 57,000+ miles already in the state system, especially the 48,000+ miles of local connector and county roads (numbered 600 and above).   The Governor/General Assembly won’t get the message immediately, but ultimately will react.

The future is:
– VDOT runs out of money
– VDOT stops accepting new subdivision roads into the state system
– homeowners in new subdivisions will pay for private road maintenance, through homeowner associations or special tax districts

If you think Prince William County officials are serious about spurring revitalization of existing neighborhoods and creation of town centers, there’s a silver lining in the transportation funding crisis.  The end to the VDOT subsidy of suburban sprawl will steer development away from “greenfield” projects, and towards the existing road grid – such as the Route 1 corridor.

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