Supervisors consider using revenue sharing to improve roads

A sign announces the end of the paved section of Poplar Avenue, near the town of Mineral. The county pursued state funding in the past three years to upgrade the 0.8 miles of gravel, which serve a handful of residences at present.

Who should pay to improve private roads to make them eligible to be maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation? Members of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors diverge on the question.

When VDOT resident engineer Alan Saunders brought up the possibility of using revenue sharing money at an April 5 board meeting to help residents upgrade their roads, Supervisor Toni Williams (Jackson District) objected. He said it was inappropriate for the state and county to subsidize residents for this purpose.

“We’re going to give people a lot of ideas if that comes out,” Williams said during an April 5 board meeting with Saunders, who was there to confirm which road projects should be in this year’s Secondary Road Six-Year Plan. 

The revenue sharing program operates on a matching basis: the state pays a certain amount to fix up a road, and the county matches it. It’s possible for residents who live on the road slated for improvements to contribute to the county’s share, but not necessary.

“These people bought on private roads, and if they want their roads in the state system they’re going to have to pony up the money themselves,” Williams continued. “It’s not the burden of the taxpayers to bring their roads to a public standard.”

He pointed out that residents of some roads have already committed to pay some of the cost to upgrade their roads to make them eligible for the state system, and other property owners shouldn’t get different treatment.

Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo District) disagreed with how Williams characterized roads as “private.”

“These people need services just like the rest of the county,” Gentry said. “They are not private roads – they’re public roads … in the sense that the county has some control over them.”

Saunders said he often receives inquiries from residents who are surprised to learn that the state does not maintain their roads, because they are private.

Each year the supervisors decide whether to add one or two road sections to the six-year plan as older projects are completed. They have a very limited amount of money to use, so progress is incremental. Typically the source of funds is either telefees – money collected from communications companies that have infrastructure in the VDOT right-of-way –  or district-wide funds for road paving. The next set of projects the board is likely to fund include sections of Harts Mill Road and Piedmont and Albemarle avenues in the town of Mineral.

Some of the unimproved private roads that would be candidates for the state system are in approved subdivisions, and the county holds bonds on them that are supposed to be used for paving. In many cases the subdivision developer never finished the work, but the bonds wouldn’t be enough to cover the actual cost of paving. 

“Someone may as well tell the people on some of those roads that they’re never going to get paved, unless you come up with the money yourselves,” said Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District). He noted a road in his district, near the lake, where several elderly people live and the road is almost inaccessible at times.

Nothing in the county’s subdivision ordinance requires roads to be improved to state standards within a certain amount of time, said Jeff Ferrel, assistant county administrator.

Not all roads taken into the state system need to be paved, Gentry said, observing that the cost of meeting state standards could be significantly less otherwise.

Supervisor Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road District) said Johnson Mill Farm Road in the eastern end of the county, is a good candidate to be brought into the state system, because the roughly 22 households have agreed to pay half the cost for improvements. They would be responsible for $125,000 in expenses, he said, with each household contributing $6,000.  

“I applaud Mr. Saunders for coming up with a way that is realistic that they can actually do this road,” Barlow said. “It won’t be subsidized by the rest of the county.”

Besides sometimes poor road conditions, living on a private road can have other disadvantages, Gentry noted. School buses will only pick up students at the end of such roads, for example, rather than stopping at their driveway.

Gentry proposed that the board establish a budget line item for private road projects. 

“We have to have a way to get funding for these roads,” he said.

Saunders said revenue-sharing money could be available for Louisa County road projects by 2026, if the board decides to pursue it.

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