A long road to take over

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 11, 2005

The road that led to the city’s controversial decision last April to assume maintenance of more than 1,480 miles of state roadways in Suffolk was riddled with &uot;potholes&uot; of concern and frustration.

But since the Suffolk City Council’s 4-3 vote in favor of the takeover, the city and the Virginia Department of Transportation have teamed up to make the July 1, 2006 changeover a smooth ride for everyone.

A task force of city and VDOT staffers has been meeting for several months to begin mapping out the logistics, said Eric Nielsen, the city’s director of public works.

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&uot;There is a lot to do,&uot;

he said, at last week’s Suffolk City Council’s work session. &uot;But things are going well.&uot;

Over the summer, teams of city and VDOT employees have finalized an equipment list, facility needs and locations, job descriptions and a timeline for hiring some employees, Nielsen said.

The teams have also set goals and timeframes for other issues that need to be addressed before the takeover, he said. For the remainder of the year, the city will put out bids for equipment purchases, work to obtain facilities, take bids for some outsourced services and continue developing plans and policies for newest addition to the public works department.

&uot;We are coming down to crunch time for equipment orders,&uot; Nielsen said.

The city has also asked VDOT to turn over some of its property, including facilities and right-of-ways, to the city, he added.

Next spring, the city will focus on finalizing policies related to road maintence, making sure all the equipment is on hand, and getting employees on board, he said.

The city and VDOT have crafted a transition agreement outlining a gradual exchange of responsibilities over the next nine months. The council will get its first look at the agreement at its Sept. 21 meeting.

Under the proposed agreement:

*VDOT will continue reviewing and accepting roads into its maintenance system until Dec. 31. Beginning Jan. 1, the city will begin accepting roads for maintenance and processing urban roadway mileage requests.

*VDOT will continue reviewing plans that are currently under review. New plans will be reviewed by the city, with copies sent to VDOT for approval through June 30, 2006.

-The city will begin administering the Adopt-A-Highway program immediately.

-All new traffic signals will be constructed or modified to city design standards.

The city will also hold an employment fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 28 at the National Guard Armory, Nielsen said. The fair will give the approximately 40 VDOT employees who may be displaced by the transition the chance to apply for any available city jobs, including new ones being created by the road takeover, he said.

VDOT is committed to helping make the road takeover easy for Suffolk, said Tiffany Elliott Erbach, a VDOT spokeswoman.

&uot;We want the Suffolk to have all the resources it needs to succeed and to be prepared for the transition,&uot; she said. &uot;We want this to be a very seamless transition.&uot;

Council members Curtis Milteer and Linda T. Johnson urged city officials to move ahead on plans to create a citizen’s advisory task force. Creating the task force was a condition for Milteer’s critical vote to support the road takeover last April.

&uot;We have 38 weeks…before the rubber meets the road,&uot; Milteer said. &uot;We need to get this citizen’s group going.

&uot;These people are coming together to make sure disbursements of services and money are being spent equally,&uot; he said. &uot;I don’t want these people squeezed out of the equation.&uot;

Also, Johnson called for the city to draft a clear outline of the responsibilities for the citizen’s advisory group.