Local MPO upset with handling of road issue

Posted: August 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Members of the Winchester-Frederick County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board have balked at a federal agency’s request to endorse a roadway maintenance reclassification process that they think was flawed.

The board members voted 7-0 Wednesday to send a resolution offered by the Federal Highway Administration back to its Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for consideration.

The motion also calls for a letter to be sent to top Virginia Department of Transportation leaders outlining the problems they experienced with the process.

County Administrator John R. Riley Jr. made the motion for the board to send a message “to the grand poobahs at VDOT expressing our concerns on the process.”

The issue could return to the Policy Board as early as next month once the TAC has reviewed the issue.

The process of rejecting the desired resolution started with that committee two weeks ago.

Perry Eisenach, the city’s public services director, said at that meeting that he hadn’t received a response to a question raised early in the reclassification process. He wanted to know why Jubal Early Drive was downgraded to a major collector from a principal artery, a change that could have cost the city about $30,000 annually in highway maintenance funding.

John Bishop, Frederick County’s deputy director of transportation, said at the TAC meeting that he couldn’t support the resolution because it stated that the process was a collaborative one. In his opinion, it hadn’t been.

The city’s issues regarding Jubal Early Drive were resolved satisfactorily within days of the TAC’s decision, Tim Youmans told the board.

The street has been reclassified as a minor arterial, a downgrade that results in no loss of funding. Terry Short, Staunton District planning manager for VDOT, said federal officials changed the classification based on Jubal Early’s importance in Winchester’s transportation network.

Bishop said the county was contacted by VDOT officials about its overall concerns, too, in the days following the TAC’s vote.

Despite those recent resolutions, Richard Shickle, chairman of both the Policy Board and the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, said his impression was that the reclassifications were being foisted on the localities, and he couldn’t support a resolution stating that the process was a cooperative one.

“I can’t say that’s what happened for me,” he said. “You’re down to the end now. What should’ve happened that didn’t happen is embarrassing.”

Bishop said at the Policy Board meeting that he thought the process was important. Based on the city’s experience, he questioned whether issues the county might have had would have been addressed.

He and Youmans said the reclassification process six years ago was much more collaborative.

Randy Kiser, VDOT’s Staunton District administrator, said it appeared that had the city’s Jubal Early Drive concerns been addressed adequately before the TAC meeting, the resolution likely would have been approved. The panel agreed with that statement.

Shickle said after the meeting that because the board’s input was requested, he hopes its concerns will be considered.

“Somebody wanted to know that,” he said, “so hopefully they’ll care about what we say.”

In other business, board members unanimously voted to approve a 20-day comment period for proposed Transit Transportation Improvement Program amendments and to re-elect Shickle as the panel’s chairman and John Willingham as its vice-chairman.

Attending the meeting at the Frederick County Administrative Offices were Chairman Richard Shickle and board members Charles DeHaven Jr., John Hill, Michael Kehoe, Randy Kiser, John R. Riley Jr. and Tim Youmans. Vice-Chairman John Willingham was absent.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com