Local Lawmakers To Virginia Assembly: 'No Devolution' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Local Lawmakers To Virginia Assembly: 'No Devolution'

Counties worried about proposal to make localities pay to maintain some state roads

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Virginia may consider a plan next year that would require counties to maintain some secondary state roads. 
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Virginia may consider a plan next year that would require counties to maintain some secondary state roads. 

 

Members of the Virginia General Assembly are considering a plan that would yield responsibility of state roads to local governments, even though a bipartisan coalition of government leaders has formed to oppose the plan.

It's a concept known as "devolution," and it includes returning control and maintenance of state roads to local leaders across the commonwealth. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, who supports the concept, says devolution is not a step back.

"Listen, I'm a child of the '70s," he says. "I'm a big fan of Devo, which was short for devolution." The State House version of the 2013 budget includes funding to study the possibility of devolution in several parts of the state, including Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties. If that provision is included in the final spending plan, the General Assembly could vote on the proposal in next year's legislative session.

Ever since the Great Depression, Virginia has been providing money to pay for construction and maintenance of roads in many jurisdictions across the state. Now, Connaughton and others say that's an antiquated idea whose time has passed. 

But many local lawmakers don't agree. 

Gerry Hyland, Fairfax County Supervisor for the Mount Vernon district, believes the concept could work, but only if the state is willing to fork over enough cash to go along with the responsibility.

"It would be essential that the money follow the devolution," Hyland says. "Or else you are going to have revolution on the part of local governments."

A coalition of leaders from Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties sent a letter this week to General Assembly budget negotiators, calling the plan to hand over responsibility of maintenance services for secondary roads to local governments is an "unfunded mandate." 

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova believes devolution would be a step backward.

"It's as though the state had a car, a vehicle, that had failed all of its inspections. All of the tires were flat. It needed a paintjob. It was in really bad shape," she says. Thats the state of the county's roads, says Bulova, who describes the infrastructure as "deplorable." 

"And the state coasted it into the driveway of the county and said, 'Here, it's yours. Take it,'" she says. "And now it's our responsibility to fix it up."

The General Assembly may be ready to make a decision on devolution next year. 

Lawmakers' Letter to Assembly on Devolution, March 2012
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