Storm and snow cleanup costs could impact Va. pothole filling efforts

WASHINGTON — Road repair and cleanup costs from Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Michael could lead Virginia to cut back on paving and other road maintenance this spring.

“We have not even entered the snow season yet,” Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen Brich said, which could create more of a budget crunch.

The VDOT’s latest estimate for repairs and response totals $11 million for Florence and $35 million for Michael.

Almost 1,200 road closures were in place at Michael’s peak, and 721 closures were in place during the worst from Florence.

“We still have a handful of roads that are closed due to washouts,” Brich said.

“We’ve had a lot of rain this year. The flooding that we’ve had, once it’s receded there are a couple times that we’ve come back in, repaired it, only to have flooding take out those same repairs two or three times over, and we’re starting to feel those,” he told the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

The remaining closures are outside the Washington area, but could still have an impact around here where the state has acknowledged a significant need for more paving work on secondary roads.

In past years, leftover maintenance funding has helped pay for some additional work where there were few big storms. With budget concerns this year though, the money could be shifted the other way to cover plowing, major repairs to flooded roads and other costs.

“What this might mean as we move forward … impacts to our mowing, paving, ditching operations, drainage, tree removal. Depending on what happens, we’re going to need to monitor it into the spring to determine what the impact is potentially on deferring other maintenance costs to be able to bring our maintenance program into line with what our budget is and not overspend it,” Brich said.

He is hoping for a light snow season and less rain through the end of fall, but said VDOT workers are ready to respond to whatever happens as shown by a strong response to difficult conditions in the storms.

“They have worked nonstop for almost 20 days straight,” Brich said.

While Virginia does expect to get some federal reimbursements for repairs and emergency response following Florence and Michael, the timing of that cash means it is unlikely to prevent work from being put off.

They are filing for federal reimbursement under emergency declaration

“The challenge that we have is it’s 75 cents on a dollar, 80 cents on a dollar, and usually those reimbursements will not be received until next fiscal year, so we’re out this fiscal year,” Brich said.

VDOT has additional funding concerns in the following budget year, though due to a potential clawback of about $150 million by the federal government. The action known as a rescission would take back money that has been allocated to the state in a number of areas but not immediately spent. Congress would need to act to prevent the rescission from taking place.

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