End of the road not in sight

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 25, 2005

Eric Nielsen Jr. may have heaved a sigh of relief Wednesday at the Suffolk City Council’s long-awaited decision supporting the takeover of road maintenance from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

After all, the city’s public works director spent countless hours over the past year pitching the city’s proposal to assume the maintenance of more than 1,480 miles of roads. He’s been quizzed on the pros and cons by council members, and grilled by frustrated residents at community forums.

The proposal passed with 4-3 vote.

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Now that the project is a go, the hard part is just beginning, said Nielsen.

&uot;Emotions are high over here,&uot; he said. &uot;We are excited about the opportunity to expand our boundaries and are gearing up to begin moving the process forward.

&uot;A lot of efforts went into preparing for Wednesday’s decision,&uot; he said. &uot;We have a lot to talk about with VDOT. There are a lot of tasks and issues that will need to be resolved in the next few months.&uot;

VDOT spokeswoman Tiffany Elliott agreed.

&uot;There’s much work to be done and many details to be ironed out,&uot; she said. &uot;We all have a lot of things to work out to make this transition happen.

&uot;Because it has only been a conceptual idea until this point, VDOT has not spent the man-hours needed to begin working out the details.&uot;

That’s about to change, Elliott said.

VDOT is planning to establish a task force with members representing teams throughout the agency’s Hampton Roads district and its asset management team from Richmond, Elliott said. The city will also participate in the task force.

Chief issues up for discussion will be personnel and the possibility of VDOT’s transferring some equipment and facilities to the city.

&uot;We need to look at what equipment we will sell to the city versus moving it to different residencies,&uot; Elliott said.

&uot;We don’t want to get rid of equipment we could use elsewhere in the state.&uot;

The city and VDOT have also discussed the possibility of the agency selling or leasing some of its local facilities to Suffolk, Nielsen said.

But perhaps the most important issue on the table will be the future of VDOT employees, Elliott said.

VDOT’s initial study revealed that the agency will lose 41 employees-including administrative staff, roads crews and contractors-if the city takes over the maintenance, Elliott said.

But the city will be bulking up its public works department with 80 new employees to handle road maintenance after the planned July 2006 takeover, Nielsen said.

Although the city hasn’t guaranteed jobs to the displaced VDOT workers, it committed Wednesday to giving those employees an early window of opportunity to apply for the jobs.

Meanwhile, vacancies in other residencies will also be available to the impacted employees, Elliott said.