The cuts are one element of a comprehensive plan – called the “Blueprint for the Future” – presented Thursday at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting and designed to address the projected $2.6 billion shortfall in transportation revenues during the next six years.
VDOT spokesperson Heidi Coy said the proposal would call for the Salem District to lose two residencies, one in Hillsville and another in Rocky Mount. If the proposal is passed, Coy said Carroll County would go under the direction of the Martinsville VDOT office, while Floyd County would go from the Hillsville residency to the direction of the Christiansburg office.
Coy said it’s important to note the closing of the Hillsville residency is just a proposal at this point. The public can comment on the proposal during a public hearing scheduled for March 10 at 6 p.m. at Northside Middle School in Roanoke. That location was chosen, Coy said, because it is a central district location.
VDOT Resident Administrator Bob Beasley is not optimistic about the chances of the proposal being changed, however, comparing the projected transportation shortfall and cuts to the current state of private enterprise all over America.
“It is a proposal but it is a pretty determined proposal,” Beasley said. “The whole point of this exercise is to match VDOT’s spending to its income. We have just reached a point where it has to be balanced and that balancing is a painful process.”
Beasley said his staff at the Hillsville residency consists of himself and eight other VDOT employees. He said it is too early to determine the local impact of the proposed Hillsville closing.
“We don’t know because at the moment the process as to how this is going to come about is just not known. The devil is in the details and we just haven’t been told. I don’t know when we will be,” Beasley said. “I suspect it will be a while. Everyone wants to know because they want to know how it affects them individually, and at this point those answers aren’t there.”
In addition to the staffing reductions, Coy said VDOT has proposed to close several rest stops, including four of the five in the Salem District. The only rest area that will remain open is the Virginia Welcome Center in Lambsburg on Interstate 77 at the Virginia/North Carolina border.
VDOT is seeking to reduce its overall staffing level by 1,000 full-time employees and 450 wage, temporary and hourly staff over the next 18 months. Currently, the agency has 605 hourly employees and approximately 8,400 full-time, salaried employees. VDOT estimates it will have 7,500 employees total by July 1, 2010.
“Budget shortfalls have significantly reduced the commonwealth’s transportation budget, causing VDOT to focus state dollars on maintenance, operations and emergency response efforts,” said David S. Ekern, VDOT commissioner in a press release Thursday. “Ensuring that VDOT has a long-term strategy to address the changes in our financial future requires that additional tough decisions be made surrounding our construction program, services and staffing.”
He said VDOT will focus its resources on emergency response efforts and maintenance and operations.
“Motorist safety and emergency response continue to be VDOT’s top priorities,” Ekern said. “However, VDOT will be smaller and focused solely on core services and commitments.”
The CTB implemented the first phase of the blueprint dealing with reductions in the number of new projects that will be built on Feb. 13 when it adopted a revised Fiscal Years 2009-2014 Six-Year Improvement Program. The revised program cut $2 billion in funding, delaying or eliminating 808 projects statewide.
The second phase of the blueprint involves staffing changes and organizational restructuring that will commence in four stages — the first of which involves reductions in wage, hourly and temporary employees. VDOT announced that it will cut staff in its construction development program, field operations and administrative functions, and will close 15 residency offices and 36 equipment repair facilities around the commonwealth in the next 18 months.
The third phase of the blueprint focuses on reducing spending on VDOT’s programs and services. These proposals include:
• Reducing Rest Areas and Welcome Centers
• Reducing Ferry Services
• Reducing Safety Service Patrols
• Reducing Interstate Maintenance Services
• Reducing Vegetation Management
VDOT plans to meet with community leaders and citizens to discuss potential service and organizational impacts during a series of public meetings to be held across the commonwealth this spring. The dates and locations of those meetings will be finalized in the next weeks.