Audit: VDOT left nearly $500M unspent in 2009

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By Landmark News Service

RICHMOND — Hundreds of millions in unspent reserves identified by an independent auditor will be taken from state transportation accounts and funneled into delayed road repair and construction work, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced last week.
McDonnell aims to spend $614 million in recovered cash over the next year — a boost to the state's transportation needs, he said.
He acknowledged it won't provide all of the funding Virginia needs to address the numerous deficiencies of its road network. An estimated $5 billion is needed to make bridge and pavement improvements across the state — and that doesn't count the billions in new construction needs.
McDonnell has ordered the Virginia Department of Transportation to implement about 50 recommendations from the audit — performed by Richmond-based Cherry, Bekaert and Holland, LLP — which he ordered earlier this year. Those include moving more quickly to begin projects and keeping less cash in reserve funds.
State Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton would not specify where the recovered money will be spent.
McDonnell criticized past VDOT policies for keeping "far more resources sitting in the bank that should have been deployed."
"There's been money sitting in accounts while people have been sitting in traffic," he said. "That's unacceptable."
A plan to produce new funding for state roads will be introduced in next year's General Assembly, said McDonnell, who campaigned on a pledge to solve the state's transportation woes. It will include the issuance of roughly $500 million in road bonds initially authorized in 2007 and a plan to generate at least $450 million through privatization of state liquor stores.
That's in addition to the $1.45 billion McDonnell hopes the state will realize over the next six years through cash management strategies recommended in the audit, such as capturing cash reserves.
Some Virginia Democrats, however, remain skeptical of McDonnell's plans, which they view as a piecemeal approach to fixing roads that ignores the need for new revenue. Predicting the demise of the liquor plan later this year, House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-Henry), said McDonnell's ideas seem unlikely to put new "pavement on the ground anytime soon."
Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, a Democrat, called the concept of grabbing unspent reserves a "gimmick." He has long pushed for a gas tax increase to generate additional road funds.
McDonnell and fellow Republicans oppose raising taxes for roads. Past efforts to do that, such as a 2008 proposal by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to raise $1.1 billion annually, have been defeated.
Numerous VDOT audits have been conducted over the years, including several internal reviews in the past decade. While Republicans have long pushed for outside analysis, some Democrats said more reviews won't change the fact that Virginia needs road money.