Monday, March 16, 2009

Mark Obenshain finds VDOT pork as it threatens closing rest areas

~ Obenshain Cites VDOT Waste ... Asks Why Producing YouTube Videos Comes Before the Safety of Rural Virginians ~

HARRISONBURG—Today, Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) questioned the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)'s spending priorities. Obenshain expressed disappointment at learning that the cash-strapped department, which is cutting essential services to rural areas, is not so broke as to stop producing its own YouTube videos – some legitimate public service announcements, but others unadulterated examples of government waste.

Although VDOT officials have insisted that limited funds give them no choice but to abandon all snow and ice removal on unpaved roads, the department had no trouble finding the resources to film children sledding during a recent snow.

“Instead of sending film crews to watch kids go sledding, VDOT should be clearing the roads to get those kids to school,” said Obenshain, who unearthed VDOT's YouTube Channel on Sunday.

In recent weeks, VDOT has maintained that no waste remains in the Department, brushing aside calls for a thorough review of its spending priorities. Dr. James Davis, the Staunton District's representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, chided Del. Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) for inciting the crowd at a recent public comment meeting when the Delegate reminded the Department of thwarted attempts to secure out outside audit of VDOT, efforts supported by Obenshain and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) and many others.

“Dr. Davis needs to be more of an advocate and spokesman for his region, not a mouthpiece for the administration and VDOT's Richmond based central office bureaucrats,” said Obenshain. He further noted that Davis, has repeatedly downplayed the threat proposed cuts pose to public service and dismissed objections to the shift of funds from rural to urban areas, has indicated that the region's needs will only be considered if new taxes are imposed.

As reported in the [Harrisonburg] Daily News-Record, Dr. Davis called VDOT the most audited organization he knows, yet those internal audits somehow missed the fact that VDOT wasted time and resources producing video clips of bridge demolition to an operatic score for its YouTube channel.

“VDOT's job is to maintain and clear the roads, not present a night at the opera,” said Obenshain. “These YouTube efforts may not cost much in the scheme of things, but I dare anyone at VDOT to look me in the eye and say that no waste remains while the Department is sending videographers to capture the Norris Bridge Festival.”

“This isn't as bad as when VDOT spent $6 million for a storefront in the Springfield Mall to provide construction updates on the ‘Mixing Bowl,' but the principle is the same,” Obenshain added, referring to the Springfield Interchange. Said Delegate Lohr, “At the same time VDOT officials are pleading poverty and begging for tax increases to keep the roads open, they're wasting money on worthless YouTube videos – and I'm sure that's only the tip of the iceberg.”

“What other wasteful spending lies just beneath the surface?” Obenshain wondered. “We don't know because VDOT refuses to submit to an outside audit focusing on waste. VDOT needs to get the message that the taxpayers aren't enjoying the show.”

Obenshain, Lohr and Gilbert have all written to Dr. Davis and VDOT Commissioner David Ekern requesting the reconsideration of proposals to close rest stops and reduce maintenance and snow removal standards. “These proposals are devastating to our public schools,” said Lohr. “Our first priority should be ensuring safe access to schools and workplaces.”

Check out VDOT's YouTube website. Over the past three weeks, the VDOT postings to the channel have included snow scenes, two bridge demolition clips and footage of the Norris Bridge Festival.

Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Virginia Senate. The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and Rockingham (part).

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