Thursday, January 21, 2010

Campaign promise made ... campaign promise kept

It's nice when a politician keeps a campaign promise ... and Gov. Bob McDonnell has done just that. This week's announcement that Virginia's rest areas will reopen over the next three months was welcome news for the upcoming tourist season when visitors will be traveling in our historic Commonwealth. Truckers will have somewhere to stop after the recent ruling by Augusta County's Board of Supervisors.

Many realize Virginia's rest areas were used as pawns in the political game of Democrats versus Republicans, and those pawns used by former Democrat Gov. Tim Kaine during the 2009 gubernatorial Chess game.

Republicans swept the Top 3 offices.


Rest areas will have staggered openings as they come back online after a unanimous vote by the Commonwealth Transportation Board headed up by Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton to reopen all 19 facilities by April 15, 2010.

A move that became political during the 2009 campaign, Gov. Bob McDonnell commented:
“I disagreed with the previous decision to close 19 Virginia rest stops and welcome centers. It negatively impacted public safety, tourism, and economic development. The darkened rest stops presented an image of a Virginia 'closed for business.' They left truckers and families without safe and secure areas at which they could get a break from the road, increasing the potential for accidents. Tourists traveling through the state could no longer pull over to learn about Virginia places and sites to visit. Virginians rightly recognized immediately the negative implications of that decision. Today, we have reversed it.”
Kaine has closed rest areas for supposed budget reasons. Gov. McDonnell addressed that:
“I fully understand that this is a tough budget. Significant spending cuts must be made. But they must be made with a comprehensive review of the ramifications of each decision on our citizens. I thank Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton for his leadership on this matter, moving within days of taking office to get this action accomplished. I thank the members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board for working with us to achieve this positive result. I look forward to welcoming travelers to the first re-opened rest stop in February.”
So how can a Republican administration reopen rest areas that were closed because of lack of funds under a Democrat administration?
Under the plan approved today, the Virginia Department of Transportation will use $3 million from its maintenance reserve fund to operate the facilities through the remainder of this fiscal year which ends June 30. Long-term funding for the rest areas will be identified as VDOT revises its maintenance budget this spring. The maximum anticipated cost for FY 2011 is $7.5 million.

The administration will continue to work with business leadership around the state to develop an “Adopt a Rest Stop” program to permit private sector contributions to defray operation costs. Additional cost savings will be identified in the current maintenance budget, and the Governor will direct the Department of Corrections to supply non-violent inmate work crews for maintenance, landscaping and repair of existing rest areas. The Governor has also directed Secretary Connaughton to explore further innovative ways to improve the rest areas and welcome centers, making them more attractive and inviting for Virginians and tourists.
So what needs to be done to prepare these areas for public use after Kaine had them shuttered and gated?
Crews will now begin to restore utilities, re-stock traveler information centers, clean the facilities, install vending machines and restore rest area grounds to public use standards before removing gates and reopening the facilities.

Changes the CTB made to truck parking hours and additional 225 truck parking spaces that were added at the 23 facilities that were not closed will not be revisited. These enhanced truck amenities will remain in place and the extended truck parking hours will be in place at all 42 facilities.
This is good news, indeed. It will be nice to have the I-81 rest areas and the I-64 one west of Richmond open again.

No comments: