Report: Rigid formulas handcuff VDOT
Over the course of 12 audits, 17,000 man-hours and more than a million dollars, reviewers have consistently come to the same conclusion about the Virginia Department of Transportation: In the words of a report posted yesterday on the watchdog journalism site Old Dominion Watchdog, "VDOT is like a high-maintenance girlfriend and the general assembly an overbearing father."
That's because, according to public and private audits funded by the department, the state legislature and others, longstanding formulas determine very narrowly where it may spend its money, even if department officials feel they have urgent priorities.
A 2001 audit by the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission recommended to the state legislature that they revise the formula, but nearly a decade later, the body hasn't acted on that recommendation--and the lack of flexibility has only become more problematic as the agency's become more strapped for cash.
Virginia Del. Bob Brink, D-Arlington, told the Old Dominion Watchdog that the formula short-changes Northern Virginia, paying in more than they get back. "I think this is a legacy from when we had a farm-to-market-based system," Brink said. "The formula hasn't kept up with the 20th century population and the transportation patterns we have now."
At the same time, Public Auditor Walter Kucharski said by way of example, the department "could say Interstate 81 is the most dangerous road and all of a sudden, the people in Northern Virginia are going to say 'that's nice, but what are you going to do for me'... Unless those laws are changed, VDOT is stuck with the basic formula."
But this year's census could provide strong data on the Virginia's changing demographics and population shift that could bolster efforts to revisit the formula. "There will be the political heft to address the transportation needs of those areas which are more cohesive than the problems of rural areas," Brink said.
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