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Route 624 Project Delayed

CUMBERLAND – County citizens and Supervisors both took time during the Board of Supervisors meeting last week to express their frustrations with Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) proposed Six-Year Plan for Cumberland County that has been presented in draft form and set for a public hearing. That hearing was set for the Board's June meeting.

The lone road on the plan that received complete funding last year and was anticipated to be completed this spring as a rural rustic project has now been delayed, according to the proposed Six-Year Plan, until next spring.

According to comments made by Supervisor Tim Kennell, District Two, the reason for the delay is due to the agency's re-organization process.

The residents of Route 624, Jenkins Church Road, had been working for many years to see the gravel road improvements to fruition and thought a solution was finally in place by way of a rural rustic road project.

“I'm sorry they aren't here to explain it,” said Chairman Van Petty, District Three, about VDOT's lack of representation at the Board's meeting on Tuesday, May 10. “But, I do know that is the next road that is suppose to be constructed in Cumberland County. You are at the top of the list…”

According to Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, the funding is in place to complete the rural rustic project on Jenkins Church Road in the amount of $616,718 for 3.2 miles of road.

“I'd like to hear some response from them as to what is going to happen and what the plan is for Route 624,” said Osl. “I don't hold out a lot of hope as to what they will or will not tell us, quite honestly…”

He later addressed the citizens in attendance and told them to write and call the Commonwealth Transportation Board with their concerns related to road concerns in the County.

“We've talked to our representatives in the General Assembly and they've said that they can't do anything about it because it's up to the Commonwealth Transportation Board-that's where the pressure apparently has got to be brought,” he said about also contacting the Governor's Office and the Secretary of Transportation's Office with road concerns. “Contact those three places…”

The citizens voiced their concerns to VDOT during the Board's public comment address period but a VDOT representative from the agency was not present.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, William Tunstall addressed the Board but focused his comments on VDOT and the Jenkins Church Road project that was secured as a rural rustic road project last year and said, “The money has been there, so how hard is it to pick up the phone and call some construction guys?”

“I'm here to ask, if VDOT is not in the house, is to make them understand that basically fixing three roads for $300,000, some as rural rustic, is more beneficial to the county, the residents, and ya'll than it is to spend all the money in the bank to fix one road and hopefully it doesn't tear up in two years…,” said Tunstall while referring to the breakdown of Bonbrook Creek Road's asphalt. “I've been there 12 or 13 years and there are people on the road who have been there longer and we were really hoping that this spring we'd see construction trucks.”

Chairman Petty later noted that he had spoken with a VDOT representative about the asphalt breaking down on Bonbrook Road earlier this year and asked that the County's Administrator, Judy Ownby, follow-up with the agency about the plan to repair those areas.

“I guess we need to do another follow-up just to see where they are,” he noted.

Teresa Dabney spoke later about her concerns for Route 624.

“I didn't think I'd end up back up here trying to discuss Route 624 again,” she said. “…I've been working on those roads for about 25 years-Bonbrook Road got tarred. It's not the best condition but you don't have to worry about no dirt flying in your window so I would like to have a dirt road that is tarred. I don't care if it's cheap tar or what kind of tar it is just so that dirt can stop flying…”

A letter was also provided to the Supervisors from another concerned resident, Jane Jervis, as information.

The Six-Year Plan for Cumberland was revised in 2008 to include the section of Route 624 from Bonbrook Creek Road to Meador Road and the portion of Route 624 from Route 45 to Bonbrook was already listed as a priority on the plan, according to Ms. Jervis in her letter that was presented in the Board's packet.

“In 2010, I was advised that the entire Route 624 paving project was funded and ready to be contracted and due to late summer weather work would begin in the spring of 2011. Later, a VDOT representative passed on information that due to a shortage of personnel, work would not begin until late summer, 2011. Last week, I learned that the project is delayed until 2012 due to VDOT staffing changes,” continued Ms. Jervis in the letter.

That letter was also forwarded to Jorg Huckabee-Mayfield, Cumberland's local VDOT liaison.

“Our Cumberland County supervisors already know how intensely and for how long efforts have been made to get VDOT to pave this road. Be assured your work on this project is sincerely appreciated. By copy to Ms. Huckabee-Mayfield of VDOT, I would like to volunteer my time to VDOT to place a call a contractor to begin this work. It is inconceivable that it should take VDOT a year to get one employee to make one phone call. This situation should be corrected immediately,” noted Ms. Jervis in her letter.

VDOT Responds

The Herald contacted VDOT's Lynchburg District Office for clarification concerning the proposed delay for the rural rustic project that is presented in the Six-Year Plan for Route 624, Jenkins Church Road.

Paula Jones, public affairs for VDOT, addressed the Route 624 project in Cumberland and explained that the agency's current emphasis is to secure as much federal funding as possible.

“What has occurred in the last year or so is that we've had an emphasis on our federal funding and the need for us to secure as much federal funding as possible in light of the dwindling state monies,” she said about the agency's shift in emphasis on road projects. “So much of our design work and our other planning has been related to projects that have federal monies on them. So you know that has been our emphasis and we need to get that money in to be able to keep things moving…and it's not a matter of trying to lessen the importance of any state maintained route but this has been what the emphasis of the agency is on-the federally funded projects.”

Ms. Jones also touched on the agency's recent reorganization.

“I can't say that the reorganization hasn't had any part. If we had more people would things have been done differently? That's possible, but, again, the emphasis is on federal funding and that's where we had to put most of our emphasis.”