Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) issued a press release today about the subject:
HARRISONBURG—Today, Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) wrote an open letter to Governor Tim Kaine expressing their objections to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)'s closure of eighteen rest areas across the state and calling his attention to a VDOT practice that is draining funds that could go toward restoring service to the closed rest areas and maintaining Virginia's vital transportation infrastructure.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).
The full text of the letter is appended, and a PDF copy may be viewed here.
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July 23, 2009
The Honorable Timothy M. Kaine
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218
Dear Governor Kaine,
As the deadline for saving the rest areas from closure passed us by, you expressed regret that funding was not available to keep them open. We have long urged you to preserve these rest areas for the safety of Virginia's motorists, but we are not unaware of the financial challenges confronting all state agencies and departments during the economic downturn. We have, therefore, sought to accompany our calls for keeping the rest areas open with ideas for locating the necessary funding, and in that vein, we write you today to call to your attention a VDOT practice that is draining funds that could go toward restoring service to these closed rest areas and maintaining Virginia's vital transportation infrastructure.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)'s equipment division maintains an extensive 32,000 piece, $534 million fleet, with VDOT residencies “renting” equipment from the division to meet local needs. We are informed that, under current policies, residencies can lose rental priority, and in some cases even rental rights, if they do not utilize equipment with certain established frequencies, and that on many occasions, this requirement has led to the wasteful spectacle of residencies leasing more, or more expensive, equipment than is required for a particular task, or in more egregious instances, running rental equipment in back lots to log time on the meter despite the lack of any actual need for that equipment.
Any system that rewards this sort of low-level fraud, and indeed renders it necessary for residencies wishing to gain timely access to necessary equipment at a later date, is severely flawed, and we call upon your office to review these wasteful practices, which tie up equipment, transport it needlessly, and waste both fuel and man-hours.
We also write to express our concerns about the cost of maintaining the VDOT fleet. In one instance where the Louisa residency was unable to obtain a backhoe from the equipment division and was forced to utilize a private rental, they were able to meet their equipment needs for $800 / week, a savings of almost twenty-five percent off the $1,040 / week quoted by VDOT's own equipment division. When one considers that, whereas private rental agencies seek to profit in such transactions, an internal equipment division should not be marking up costs, one begins to realize the full scope of the cost differential.
The mowers VDOT provides for maintaining the median strips between interstate highways, meanwhile, are sometimes let for as much as $218 / hour. At this exorbitant rate, a single mowing season is sufficient to cover the entire cost of purchasing new equipment outright. What can justify such expenses? Why are the Department's equipment costs so high?
These are only a few of the questions we believe an outside performance audit of VDOT could answer, and we renew our request for such an audit. We do not believe that any measures short of a complete external review of the Department's operations are sufficient, but even if you are not, at present, willing to take this step, we urge you to make inquiries into current VDOT equipment policy.
If Virginians are to be asked to go without many of the rest stops upon which they have long relied, we believe they are owed the assurance that the state is leaving no stone unturned in the quest to reduce wasteful, duplicative, unnecessary, and fraudulent spending, and hope that you will join with us in seeking efficiencies and cost savings.
We remain ready and willing to work with you to restore funding to the Commonwealth's closed rest areas and to once again announce that Virginia is open for business and tourism.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain
26th State Senate District
Del. Todd Gilbert
15th House District