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Virginia still lags behind other states in pace of transportation stimulus spending

Rosalind Helderman

Virginia continues to lag behind other states in the pace of its spending of federal stimulus dollars on transportation, a condition that drew Republican attacks on Gov. Tim Kaine (D) more than a year ago but has continued into the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

According to material distributed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, by the end of May, Virginia ranked 50th out of the 50 states and the District in getting stimulus dollars for roads out the door.

The federal committee reported that as of May 31, Virginia had obligated all of its federal dollars by putting projects out to bid. But only 64 percent of Virginia's allocated dollars were put to projects that are already under contract, and only 44.6 percent of its funds put on projects where work is now underway.

Nationally, states on average have put 89 percent of their allocated funds into projects that are under contract and 84 percent on projects where work is under way. Only Delaware ranks lower than Virginia in its pace of spending.

In an interview late Wednesday, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said part of the reason for the statistics was that Virginia had fallen behind under the Kaine administration as officials there engaged in a lengthy process of deciding where to spend the money, including soliciting public input. He said that delay was puzzling given that most projects ultimately identified had been in state plans for years.

Because the Democratic-led administration delayed in identifying projects, the state had only obligated about 40 percent of its funds by the time McDonnell took office in January. That left the McDonnell administration scrambling to meet a March 2 deadline in obligating all the funds; if it had failed to do so, Virginia would have lost some of the funding.

"This ship was headed on a certain course. We couldn't change direction," he said. "We had to mount a major effort to meet the deadlines."

But some of the reasons he cited for the delay were quite similar to those offered by the Kaine administration last year when they came under fire for the GOP over this issue. McDonnell himself was particularly harsh during his campaign for governor over the issue, accusing Kaine of spending too much time on the Democratic National Committee.

"I think in part Governor Kaine's been traveling around the country campaigning for Democrats for eight months and it appears on this and a number of other things he was not paying the attention he should as governor," McDonnell said in October, after Virginia received a letter from the Democratic chairman of the transportation committee chiding it for spending too slowly.

One reason Connaughton said the delay persists it that Virginia has chosen to spend some of its stimulus dollars on major projects that require engineering and environmental studies. Some states pushed dollars out the door quickly by spending it on paving and maintenance projects that required little up-front work.

Connaughton said he did not fault the Kaine administration for the projects it chose, despite the fact that they will take longer to fund and build.

"This is an eternal conflict with this project," he said. "Was it intended to put people immediately to work in the short term, for a short period of time? Or to actually make transportation improvements that help your economy over the long term? Virginia went with the latter."

That explanation was one provided by Kaine last year for the delay. "We decided, look, if we're going to get money, let's do something that would add some new value. When you do new projects, instead of existing projects, it takes a little longer," Kaine said in October.

Connaughton also said Virginia is meeting all its legal deadlines for stimulus spending (also a Kaine reply last year), and that he expected future federal reports to show Virginia catching up to other states in the pace of its spending.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  July 8, 2010; 10:59 AM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , Timothy M. Kaine , Transportation  
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we are all doomed - politics are run by the worst people in the country... i say we stand up to the government

Posted by: rockettonu | July 8, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I hope Virginia moves on this. I don't know any NoVa commuters who think that commuting into DC from VA is nearly good enough. Bus schedules and the vast area between the orange & blue/yellow lines that have no metro are sore spots. If VA really has money to spend on transportation, they should step on it.

Posted by: dcombs001 | July 8, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

NOVA won't get its share anyway. Fairfax County, with 1.1M residents (more than 8 states) will get $1,100 in transportation funding from the state next year.

Posted by: lauther266 | July 8, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

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