What Happens When the State Runs Out of Money for New Highway Construction?

Right now, the roads are still getting expanded.  Construction equipment, orange cones and new asphalt is a constant presence at the intersection of Hoadley Road and Prince William Parkway, and elsewhere in the county.

Hmmm… think Virginia can afford to widen existing highways and build new roads forever?

The answer is revealed in the FY2012-17 Six Year Secondary Road Plan for Prince William, which sets priorities and allocates funding for the roads with numbers greater than 600 (such as Route 619).   Key language is in Section II B of the plan that the Board of County Supervisors is scheduled to adopt on June 7:
VDOT Estimates  The current estimate for the FY12 Annual Allocation is $0.  There are no funds allocated to future years, so the plan will be used to re-prioritize projects within the plan with prior allocations.

There is no money for new secondary road projects for FY2012.  There is no money in FY13, FY14, FY15, FY16, or FY17.

New housing that will be built in the next 15 years, such as the Avendale development, will add more traffic to existing roads.  After this last spending surge and road construction, however, there’s no money in the pipeline to expand those roads ever again.  Congestion will just get worse and worse.

How did we get into this mess?
County officials have approved many new housing projects, claiming that Virginia will build 700 new lane-miles listed in the Transportation Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.  Officials have known for years that the VDOT budget projections indicate no additional funding.  Fuel-efficient cars are reducing income from the gas tax, while inflation makes construction more expensive – and aging infrastructure (especially bridges built 50 years ago) will require major repairs.

In about 2 more years, Prince William will see the end of the road construction projects funded by the final surge of Federal stimulus spending, and by state and local transportation agencies that have borrowed money.  We’ll still see construction – but after 2015, the road projects will be operations and maintenance.  Clearing snow, repaving, repainting bridges, and cleaning ditches is important, but highway capacity won’t expand.

What’s VDOT gonna do?  Expect a big political push for new taxes (gas tax, sales tax, new bonds financed by property taxes, whatever…) to finance more roads.  Expect to see more proposals for toll roads – even existing freeways may not stay “free.”  Expect the Washington Post and local developers to spur the local Chambers of Commerce to remain perpetual cheerleaders for more government spending, just as they did for the North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance.

You ready to support higher taxes?  More debt?  Forever?

Who do you think should be held accountable for the congestion of the future?   Should we blame:
– people who move into the new houses after 2015?
– people who oppose increasing government debt yet again to finance yet another surge of road construction?
– people who oppose new/higher taxes to finance more roads?
– smart-growth advocates who support directing infrastructure funding to urban redevelopment, so people can live near where they work rather than commute long distances to work?
– conservationists who oppose using tax dollars to subsidize more sprawl into undeveloped fields/forests?

Or should we give credit for congestion to current county officials, who have rezoned parcels to approve housing scattered across the county without having adequate funding for new roads?


3 comments so far

  1. […] Roads with route numbers above 600 may be out of luck If the route numbers are above 600, they may not be widened for some time, reports My Piece of the Planet. […]

  2. Von@Cosmetic Dentist Honolulu on

    This is not something any tax payer wants to face. Already dumping tons of money into something and not being able to complete it until more money is required. Doesn’t sound fun. Whoever messed up there should be fired.

  3. Brian Leeper on

    The worse traffic congestion gets, the more the fuel economy of typical vehicles (non-hybrids) drops.

    The more the fuel economy drops, the more gas is burned.

    The more gas is burned, the more gas tax revenue is collected.

    Therefore, the government has a perverse incentive to create traffic congestion to increase their revenue.

    Even if they’re not doing intentionally, via, say, screwed up traffic signal programming, it doesn’t negate the fact that they are pulling in more revenue from traffic congestion.

    A car that might get 30MPG in free-flowing traffic could get gas mileage as poor as 15-17MPG in heavy congested traffic.

    Roughly, the gas tax revenue from that trip has doubled.

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