Henrico County officials have an independent streak that's more than a thousand miles long.
The county is one of just two in the state that control the construction and maintenance of their own networks of secondary roads all 1,250 miles of them. It's an arrangement in place since 1932, when Henrico opted out of the state's takeover of state roads. So it's somewhat irksome to county officials that every January their legislative delegation slogs down to the capital, hat in hand, to beg for an increase in funding that never comes.
Adding potential injury to their yearly General Assembly insult, a Republican initiative may force Henrico to jostle with every county in the state for their already meager portion of the road-funding pie. In other words, more broken-down roads could go unfixed.
Last week, House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, announced the proposal, which would combine transportation and land-use reforms in an uber-initiative to fundamentally change how state funding is doled out.
The road component would encourage counties to resume repair and construction responsibilities for secondary roads. Arlington County is the only other locality that successfully opted out of the 1932 state takeover of local roads.
"To be very candid with you, because while we're one of two counties in the state that maintain their own roads, we don't want to lose funding in this," says Henrico Deputy County Manager Robert Pinkerton. "How are [counties] going to be reimbursed or funded, and where is that going to be coming from? The pie for road maintenance is only so large."
The Republican plan bills itself as a solution to the ongoing road funding crisis, but how it would save money while still allocating money to localities for roads is unclear, says Michael A. Estes, the Virginia Department of Transportation's local assistance division director. Estes has not yet seen the plan's details.
The transportation department now spends approximately $5,000 per lane-mile on secondary roads for all counties other than Arlington and Henrico, Estes says. Henrico's per-lane-mile budget is currently $3,000 more than VDOT's.
"I think the real question is the financial implications," says Estes. "Arlington [currently] gets close to three times what [the state] would spend on a lane mile."
The only additional funding source offered by Speaker Howell would give localities the ability to levy road impact fees on new construction. But impact fees are one-time payments that don't cover long-term maintenance.
One possibility offered in the proposal would fund local roads at the same rate as Virginia cities, which also maintain their own secondary roads.
That'd be good news for Henrico officials, but only if the state money is there to fund it. Richmond currently receives $15,586 per lane mile for roads like Broad Street and $9,000 per lane mile for smaller city streets.
Estes describes the proposal as a powerful carrot to counties, but one that should be carefully planned: "If the carrot comes from existing revenues, I think you're familiar with our current situation from a revenue standpoint." S