The coming sea change

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2004

You will be hearing a lot more about VDOT versus &uot;Do It Yourself&uot; road maintenance during the next months and year. Let’s say that you are mildly satisfied with the condition of Suffolk’s streets and roads but have no objection to them being in better shape and costing you less. That’s the proposal being studied by Eric Nielsen, director of Public Works, his staff, and others who know how to look into every detail of the transfer of maintenance from VDOT to city. It is an involved process that would take at least a year to accomplish. I’ve looked at every number shown to the public and can unequivocally tell you it is a win-win proposition for the city and local taxpayers, unless….

The amount of details necessary to examine in such an important proposal is frightening. But the charts and graphs presented by Nielsen appeared to peek into every aspect of maintenance including personnel, necessary equipment, and other costs. Obviously VDOT will relinquish much responsibility and hand it over to Suffolk. They can therefore reduce their personnel and equipment; we will buy some of it, reducing their costs. The why of it all is that Suffolk stands to gain millions in additional monies that would otherwise end up in other cities and counties. This is due to the madness of the funding mechanisms used in Virginia… nearly all the funding formulas favor other localities.

By assuming the responsibility for our own streets and roads, not all of them, the city is in a better position to decide what needs repairs and when, eliminating any bickering with the decision-makers at VDOT, especially when timing the stoplights through town. We are growing up, now able to handle all of our own affairs as a city, and we have many capable people downtown at city hall able to decide things of this magnitude. During the next months they will be seeking your opinion about such a transfer in case yours is a unique situation. They will offer neighborhood meetings and provide individual opportunities for debate. Judging by what I’ve seen, the majority of the citizens will recognize the need and the wisdom to accept this proposal.

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However – there is always a however – even with a task force appointed to debate the ins and outs there must be guards at the gate to prevent certain politicians, council members, developers, etc., from attempting to garner an unfair share of the money pot. An investigation would find that even under the current arrangement with VDOT money has not been properly distributed, according to those who know. But I’ll leave that for more influential persons than I to dig around in. My point is, under the new arrangement being considered there will be room for maneuvering and pressure to favor certain areas of the city. This is not intended to be a &uot;catch-up&uot; for areas that some consider &uot;neglected&uot; in past years. That must be strongly resisted; there must be no &uot;grab&uot; for the extra dollars available because there is not enough money in Fort Knox to make every road and street perfect. There is, however, under the coming system, a good chance that neglected areas will be treated with more respect, and receive a better hearing.

Many big issues facing taxpayers this year and it’s best that you be informed to the degree you have a voice in coming decisions that will surely affect you.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted at