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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 09/24/2010

The money in VDOT's mattress

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Could the Virginia Department of Transportation be a candidate for the TLC show "Help! I'm a Hoarder?"

Apparently, considering yesterday's audit release. While VDOT hasn't exactly been buried alive, the agency has been sitting on millions that it could have been using for road maintenance and construction.

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Thursday the results of a $424,000, four-month audit commissioned by the state. It found that VDOT has about $1 billion at its disposal -- money available because the agency hasn't been spending about a quarter of its allocations every year since 2007.

The audit makes VDOT budget cuts enacted nine months ago look a bit silly now. It uncovered a lump of cash roughly equal to the $893.5 million the state's transportation board slashed from the agency in December.

The VDOT employees I spoke with a few months ago also look a bit silly.

"After we pay for interstate and primary projects and maintenance, there is no money left over to go to the secondary system," VDOT spokesman Jeff Caldwell told me in July. "There's been no money to go through the [secondary] formula at all."

On the subject of road repaving, maintenance engineer Robby Prezioso said roads used to get attention when their ratings dropped to the 60s or 70s (100 being perfect), but now would do so only when ratings drop to the 50s.

"It means we address less of the roads that need to be addressed," Prezioso said.

The audit confirms that the agency doesn't seem to know how to manage itself even after 32 audits in the past decade. The unspent money suggests that VDOT missed out on doing projects when construction costs were lower and that its budgets were cut more than necessary.

But the audit bears tidings that are very welcome, overall. While the money certainly doesn't solve all of VDOT's problems, it's still a nice chunk of change. One hopes that Virginia drivers will spend less time swerving around potholes that would make even Cleveland blush, and we'll see work begin on some of the projects in the state's six-year transportation plan.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | September 24, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

Paige,
I generally agree with your post except for two things:

Road construction costs have actually dropped with the recession so it really isn't correct to say that Virginia missed out because it could have done road work when it was cheaper.

I worked in Cleveland for three years and insist that their potholes are much worse, mostly to the more extreme freeze-thaw cycle and lack of funding.

Peter Galuszka

Posted by: pgaluszka | September 24, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Paige,

Those public officials you spoke to don't look silly, they look like liars.

How much more money is sitting around in other departments?

Posted by: BudMiller | September 27, 2010 1:50 AM | Report abuse

They are now saying this money is available over six years. We need an independent analysis of this audit. It seems odd that so many people have remained silent on this news. Do you think that McDonnel may be exagerating this for his own benefit and that this is just another accounting trick ? It's not like this is money they didn't know they had.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | September 27, 2010 5:18 AM | Report abuse

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