Wednesday, March 18, 2009

VDOT cuts spur rural safety concerns

By Rachana Dixit from - Charlottesville, VA

Published: March 18, 2009

Proposed reductions in service and road maintenance by the Virginia Department of Transportation have area officials concerned that the move would make rural roads unsafe or inaccessible during bad weather.

A VDOT spokesman, however, said Tuesday that those concerns are unfounded, as the agency has no intention to change its bad-weather operations.

Adapting to a difficult economy and declining transportation revenues, VDOT is proposing to do fewer routine road maintenance measures, such as grading unpaved roads and mowing vegetation. According to the agency’s Web site, that could mean rural roads would be plowed and salted less quickly during snow and ice storms.

If such a reduction in maintenance and road treatment were approved, Albemarle County schools’ transportation director said, it could become very difficult or even perilous for students and drivers to get to school during bad weather, forcing the locality to cancel school for more days.

“We would have more snow days and have to go to school longer in June,” Josh Davis said.

Agency spokesman Lou Hatter said the information about bad weather on VDOT’s site is outdated or incorrect, as the agency is not planning to reduce services in emergency response or inclement weather.

“There is no proposal to change that,” he said, referring to standards for snow removal. “The standards will stay the same as what they are.”

According to VDOT’s Web site, secondary paved roads that see average daily traffic of fewer than 750 vehicles would be plowed and opened within 48 hours or once busier roads are complete, whereas currently those secondary roads are plowed and opened within half that time. Additionally, the site states, secondary unpaved roads that see the same amounts of traffic could be closed periodically or for the duration of the winter.

Davis said that in some of Albemarle’s rural districts, more than 20 percent of students live on unpaved roads. Davis also said that more than 50 percent of Albemarle students live in rural areas and that 65 percent to 85 percent of the student populations of some schools live on roads that would not be treated under VDOT’s proposal.

“Our total number of students that are impacted are about at least 70 percent,” Davis said.

Mike Skeens, a member of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, said reducing road treatments during snow or ice storms would most assuredly make it difficult for localities whose populations are largely rural.

“We would never be able to get out to some of these schools,” he said.

Mowing will also be done when there are vehicle safety concerns for a particular location, Hatter said, and done less when it is more for aesthetic value. But Hatter added that routine maintenance on unpaved roads is likely to be reduced with the changes.

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