VDOT, #036;18 million and other half-truths

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2005

After attending the last several city sponsored meetings on the proposed take over of maintenance for the road network in the &uot;Old-Nansemond County&uot; from VDOT, it is clear that we are not hearing the entire story from City Hall.

While such a statement may sound like a conspiracy theory, an informed observer familiar with how our present city management functions can understand how there obviously is more to the story than what is being told.

While some may dismiss this, it may lead to much more than what most realize they are getting.

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While the presentation by Public Works Director Eric Nielsen has described just taking over road maintenance from VDOT, the real story about this issue includes a process that has significantly expanded in both scope and function.

The reasons that such a conclusion is most likely valid, is that recent dialog has grown to include a push to take over road construction, too.

In addition, it is clear that much of such work defined under such a scheme will be done by expensive contract labor for both physical efforts and engineering.

This story includes how the opportunity is being described one way, and is in fact a much bigger story that will be revealed in the near future.

It also appears most likely that the decision by council has already been made to take over road maintenance, but the real push is yet to come and that is the real story.

The present story we are getting deals with what is described as an $18 million deal that will bring about $5 million of found money to expand road maintenance efforts in Suffolk.

This will be dovetailed into &uot;storm-water&uot; maintenance needs we shall soon take on.

The story that has been constructed sounds and is by rational determination, a good deal for Suffolk.

The real issue however, is that this is just &uot;Phase I&uot; of what is obviously a bigger plan.

While most of us do not have firsthand knowledge of all aspects of this bigger plan, it is apparent that much more is being planned than what we recently saw at the Whaleyville presentation by Mr. Nielsen.

While estimating what is going to be done or included in this plan, some of the bigger details come into focus for the informed observer. The first thing that comes to mind is that the simple plan offered to us, is just a ruse to kickoff &uot;the real plan.&uot;

The second phase and following phases include a press to take over all road construction and planning, which is going to have a bigger effect, because that is where a significant amount of local money will be allocated and spent in the future.

The effect of such a plan to meet the City Management’s road construction wish list, will be spending that to put it bluntly, is breathtaking and could run spending upwards of $30 million each year.

In addition, the presently running Road/VDOT ad from downtown includes a statement that the governor will provide incentive money if the city takes over road construction projects.

What this really means is that the Commonwealth will provide a few million dollars incentive if the local government steps forward to spend tens of millions more.

It appears that our city management has decided to do just that, and most of this spending will be programmed in the north end of the City where most of the growth has gone.

While it is abundantly clear that there is a real crisis attached to our road construction needs as a growing city, it is also obvious that city management is playing games with the truth and ultimate goals they have in this area.

The reason that these objectives are so clear to the informed observer is that such actions have become the hallmark of the present city management.

In this case however, the cost of this behind the scene truth has risen to an all time high and millions more than what is spoken of.

With the cost of replacing the King’s Highway Bridge at $40 million alone, the potential costs to meet the expressed construction goals of our city management could be several times the $18 million VDOT dollars talked of.

Where would these millions come from?

What priority would be placed on what projects?

Could these needs be met without pushing up taxes even further than assessments are already doing so?

If such questions do attach to the situation, we need answers now.

Given the present situation, it is clear that we should take over road maintenance from VDOT, but do we have all the facts?

If even more is planned concerning costs and construction, then they should and must level with us fully.

There obviously are a host of other difficult questions that apply to this situation and what really makes this an issue of significance is our city management has decided not to even include us in the discussion of it.

This also brings forward an even more important issue and it surrounds how this entire event has been mishandled.

These issues point to a systemic problem that only city council can change.

With such an utter and total failure to fairly consult with the citizenry as described in city council’s intent concerning these significant issues, it may be time to look into making some real changes.

City Council should level with us about this situation and if it is as described above, do some soul searching to find how this could be.

Further, there should be a full assessment of this outcome and if it is really so, then heads should roll downtown.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at RogerFlys@aol.com.