Friday, April 24, 2015

Lessons Learned from Alabama's Captive County Fiasco: Advice for Virginia, North and South Carolina

Sometimes the best laid plans fail.  It is not from lack of results or lack of effort, but usually these plans fail because either just enough people are not happy with the results of that plan or the approach taken is not fair to all parties involved.  While the storm has quieted down at present in Virginia over devolution of its state controlled county road system, the battle still rages in South Carolina where the state has strongly considered devolving responsibility for at least half of its current state-owned road system mileage as a means of forcing counties and cities to fund roads that are not federal-aid thus are lower in regional importance.  While fair skies permeate the Mid-Atlantic states at the moment for state-controlled county roads, the devolution threat still looms in the coming years.  North Carolina's roads are also slipping in pavement quality, and Virginia still has a long climb back after neglecting to fund its road system prior to 2012.  Another outbreak of devolution mania is likely to ensue with neither North Carolina nor Virginia able to adequately meet the demands of these two fast growing states.  With at least 35% of the roads in poor condition in all three states, the same bad idea used in 35 other states does not need to be adopted in these states.

Roads such as Simmons Gap Road (Rt. 628) pictured here in Albemarle County, VA have an uncertain future in terms of the state continuing to maintain their roads.  The debate over the state's role in what would otherwise be a county maintained road in other states is never over as long as states fall behind on maintenance and roadway improvements.


Alabama's "captive counties" were born in a period of progressive fiscal policy where state involvement in local road maintenance was much higher than today.  While Alabama has larger counties than many other Southeastern states, these counties are still low in population and have a high percentage of residents with lower incomes.  How "captive counties" began was in the 50's when corruption on a local level was very rampant.  Instead of a countywide road structure where all road maintenance was centralized in one single unit, counties were continuously splitting up road responsibility across special road districts.  The result was that these counties began to accrue massive debt.  At the time, the state felt that the only strategy that would work was to take complete control of the worst counties thus unifying the counties' road responsibilities under state authority.  All equipment, facilities and employees were then seized by the state and the newly "captive" counties were required to pay the state their share of highway user revenues (known as a "bookkeeping fee") to maintain roads in their counties.  A portion of that fund was used to pay off the debt with the remainder used for the state to maintain county roads.  These captive counties also made the cities within captive meaning that all roads in the county taken over by the Alabama Highway Department (now ALDOT) included those within the municipalities Alabama Highway Department.

A map of the controversial "captive counties" in Alabama

When the state was through seizing its picks of captive counties, the total was 10 counties although one source has stated there were once 13 captive counties.  These ten counties included 9 in Northern Alabama and one in Southern Alabama.  The ten counties were Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin, Winston, Lawrence, Cullman, Jackson, DeKalb, Cherokee and Baldwin.  Most counties were seized by 1955 with Colbert County seized in 1965.  When the counties became "captive", the status was always left open-ended to allow for an eventual return to local control after the debt was paid.  After that was accomplished, voters would decide via a referendum whether to "free" the counties to maintain their own roads.  A funny thing happened, though, in that this penal strategy for corrupt counties became popular: especially with county officials.  People began to see that the state was doing a better job than the counties were able to do for routine maintenance and subsequent referendums were not resulting in the turning back of those roads.  

The existence of captive counties was controversial from the start.  This irked many who believed that the system was patently unfair giving financial advantages to "free" counties, and this was enhanced by strong home rule advocates such as former governor Fob James.  Lauderdale County fought the hardest to reform the system, and a referendum was put forth in 1963 asking voters to take back their roads not even a decade after the system was adopted.  Moreover, the state did not permit counties to make any decisions or have access to funding on county roads captive to the state, and it was commonly said that funding formulas were placing captive counties at a disadvantage.  This was worsened by the cheap construction techniques used to pave captive county roads.  The system was dominated by roads paved with nothing more than a thin layer of double surface treatment (tar and gravel) that, while an improvement over dirt roads, got into bad shape quickly.  With the state unable to raise revenues adequately to improve the worsening road conditions, the fight escalated 20 years after the system was created.  

In 1975, Lauderdale County came up with a solution for the Captive issue.  The way the system was structured gave no control to the counties in how money was spent.  The county proposed limiting the role of the state without being required to take over maintenance.  The idea was that the state would cede financial and planning authority for construction to the county while continuing to provide maintenance thus keeping the county "captive".  A similar strategy has been considered more recently in Virginia.  It was a sound solution that could have saved the system, but the idea slipped through the cracks.  State Senator James Lemaster was fighting on a different front pushing heavily for full local control to fix the substandard roads that were falling apart.  His strategy would ultimately prevail.  For some reason, the hybrid solution with the state providing routine maintenance only while the counties otherwise plan and construct as they choose has been nearly impossible to execute: perhaps due to unclear authority for the roads and the ease in which the state could dump that responsibility if they are only responsible for what amounts to essentially patching potholes and putting up signs.

Four years later, Governor Fob James expressed fiery opposition to anything but home rule for counties.  With enough support in the state senate, the counties were coerced into a compromise that resulted in the return of the captive systems to the counties.  For about a year, the state and county squabbled about how equipment, employees and facilities would be transferred and after an agreement was reached all 10 counties regained control of their roads.  Problem was that except for wealthier and more populous Baldwin County, the captive counties were mostly poor, rural counties.  This transfer of authority to the counties gave them more freedom, but it led to a definite decline in roadway standards.  These "free" counties were not able to magically provide the good roads that the local control advocates continued to champion.  In fact, road quality did not improve much at all until the late 1990's and in fact got worse.  In addition, the maintenance of traffic control devices worsened dramatically and has never returned to the levels it was when under state control.  Issues like this are completely ignored by home rule advocates who fail to address that most counties are structurally incapable of providing the same high standards, frequency of maintenance and uniformity from county-to-county that the state was able to provide. 

This 2004 photo of County Road 275 in Cherokee County shows a typical rural "captive county" road.  Although this road pictured was a primary state route from 1971-1980, it was never improved from when it was a county road.  Note the terrible condition of the road, signs, lack of safety improvements and rough pavement condition long after this road was deeded to local control.  This road was not fixed until 2008.

Neglect of traffic signs remains a pretty common issue with roads in the former captive counties.  The counties have been either unwilling or unable to maintain traffic signs to the levels they were maintained under state control.  Everything was transferred to a local level whether the counties could handle it or not.  

The decentralization of authority also destroyed the economies of scale the state provided thus ultimately placing these roads back on the levels of the other counties across the state meaning very inconsistent and unreliable routine maintenance standards.  In the 1930's, it was well known that decentralized road systems were unreliable, but somehow that topic has disappeared from modern discourse.  Nevertheless, the return to local control did offer advantages in terms of pavement condition especially as statewide revenues today do not keep up with demand.  Additionally, the state today provides far less to counties than it did in 1979.  In the late 70's, the state/county funding split was 45% state/55% county.  Today it is 80% state/20% county.  This change in role in terms of financing of roads is a likely reason the state abandoned its efforts, and this is also a reason that a return to full state control would not be possible nor practical if funded from a state level like it was before.  


The fatal error with captive counties was the refusal by the state to provide local financing options for road construction and maintenance improvements beyond state revenues.  If that issue had been resolved early on, quite possibly this road system could have been rescued.  The view in 1955 was that counties were supposed to be relieved of all duties for roads by using only state forces and revenues, but that strategy failed as the state was steering funds away from captive county governments for other reasons coupled with a sharp decline in the state's spending power within that same time period.  The idea was that property taxes would no longer have to be used for roads in the initial North Carolina strategy, but the inadequate nature of state revenues proved that unless state taxes were raised very high that it is not possible for the state to adequately maintain county roads without significant local financing.  

Nevertheless, the fight was not over.  Many in the state legislature were fans of the captive system and thought it should be brought back for all but the most populous counties.  Despite the devolution tide of the 1970's, a very serious proposal was put forward in 1985 to take over all county roads in all counties except those with a population of over 100,000 residents.  That bill had mixed reviews, but it primarily had some pretty strong opposition from counties that had never before been captive.  The main opposition was that commissioners in the formerly "free" counties felt that the state had not done a good job in the captive counties nor were they doing a good job maintaining the state routes.  They did not trust the state and felt that their roads were in better shape than what the state could provide.  In truth, these county commissioners were both right and wrong at the same time.  This brings us to the issue of roads today in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina but for the purpose of this post we will focus on Virginia.


Virginia's road system today has a lot in common with the captive counties in Alabama.  The state's secondary state highway system does not define its counties as "captive", however, since the vast majority of roads of this class are under state control.  However, the distinction is the same.  While the "captive" counties include all but two counties, these two free counties have a known financial advantage from the state in terms of funding per mile and access to local financing.  This is not lost on the other counties, especially the more populous ones, who basically have their hands tied and are unable to raise enough local revenues to make up for what the state is not providing.  They are also unable to directly address the frequently poor roadway conditions due to a lack of ability to raise funds independent of the state for that purpose.  While some regional sales tax reforms have been created helping greatly, it is still insufficient to address the huge backlog of work that is needed.  

In Virginia, the state has not kept up with modern traffic demands.  Until 1986, counties were forbidden from investing any resources into new road construction relying entirely on the state.  This put fast growing counties at a severe disadvantage by not allowing them to fund new road construction when state revenues were not sufficiently addressing substandard road conditions.  While counties across the state have been allowed more flexibility in terms of funding road improvements above what the state has offered, what the state has not provided is a dedicated and plentiful funding source for counties to use independent of the state.  The result has been a very low local investment in roadway projects while the state has done little to nothing to improve the secondary state roads.  Secondary state roads are still "local" roads.  If the counties wish to improve the roads beyond what the state provides, they should have a means of raising money to do so since they actually use these roads and thus directly experience hazardous conditions.  

Things came to a head in 2011 when the state of the secondary roads got so bad that the number of miles in poor condition jumped to around 50%.  This was a direct result of the state's low gas tax that was not adjusted for inflation and had not been raised since 1986.  State revenues continued to decline resulting in the continued deferment of maintenance, and most of this deferment was on the state's secondary system.  State funding for secondary roads fell to zero in 2012, and the former governor Bob McDonnell enthusiastically proposed a transfer of both construction and maintenance of all secondary state roads to the county governments.  His proposal was hotly contested leading to a compromise that ultimately led to an increase in taxes through wholesale gas taxes (replacing the excise gas tax), regional sales taxes and an increase in fees.  The result of this compromise was that the state's secondary system was at least temporarily rescued from devolution, but this road plan is still a band-aid that is not healing the problem.  State funding is still not adequate to cover all local needs, and home rule advocates are still waiting for the opportunity to obtain a wide enough support to overthrow the centralized road system.

Roads like this one in Loudoun County, VA need a lot of work.  While this road is functionally local, the fact is that the state is not providing enough funding to repave, repair or rebuild roads like this.  While the county should not be expected to take over maintenance of roads like this, local revenue sources should be expanded to assure that local matters are properly addressed.  However, Loudoun has proved capable of providing funds for construction that have made it possible to fix roads like this one (it was paved and realigned recently).  This does not mean, however, that Loudoun is capable of caring for those roads on a routine basis the way that VDOT does presently.

These two roads in unincorporated Falls Church are under state control, and they show how serious the backlog of maintenance became prior to the 2012 legislation.  The first road has since been repaired, but the second is still awaiting funding for repairs.  While the state is slowly catching up from zeroing out secondary road funds in 2012, it is not likely that roads in this condition will continue to be tolerated by county and state residents if funding does not remain adequate for maintenance.  The first is Wilson Blvd (Rt. 613) and the second is Peyton Randolph Drive (Rt. 2325).  While Wilson Blvd. was finally resurfaced early in 2015, this image demonstrates the difficulties that state politics can have on road funding.  Similar roads in nearby Arlington County where the state does not control county road maintenance are in better condition, but quite a few roads in Arlington are still in rough shape.  While having Fairfax County take over road maintenance is not being advocated here, the county having its own funding sources to repair roads like this when state revenues fall short are definitely necessary as a means of continuing a centralized road maintenance strategy.

The question was again placed on the ballot in the governor's race in 2013.  Ken Cuccinelli's platform was to turn all secondary state roads to the counties.  Terry McAuliffe's was to keep the road system as it is with more funding.  The very close race resulted in the anti-devolution candidate winning the election, and he has recently pushed for a further gas tax increase.  However, Virginia's governors only serve one term.  The next election could easily result in a political conservative similar to Cuccinelli succeeding and thus again pursuing devolution.  If Virginia is going to pursue devolution, the Commonwealth should consider a better strategy than his full-scale graduated transfer plan.  Several options are discussed in the proposals section of this blog.


It is important to consider that Alabama's failed "captive county" program provides some lessons for Virginia. The lessons learned from Alabama's "captive counties" included the following:
  • The state does some things better than counties and counties do some things better than the state
  • State control of county roads does lead to better routine maintenance standards than what counties are able to provide, because:
    • It is engineer-driven with engineers always making road decisions
    • It has clearly written standards that must be followed
    • Has a stronger organizational structure that better enforces standards
    • Has high economies of scale and purchasing power allowing more expensive materials to be purchased in bulk and at lower unit cost
  • However, states do not have the revenues or organization to properly fund road construction off of the federal-aid road network resulting in a construction backlog
  • Significant local funding matches are essential to fund proper maintenance of roads off of the federal-aid eligible road network
  • State revenues alone are not enough to keep up with needed local road improvements resulting in deferment of paving and other road projects 
    • Local governments need a guaranteed source of revenues to fund road construction, and those funds must be used only for transportation purposes on secondary state roads
    • When local governments can chip away at the construction backlog and speed up completion of maintenance projects, state revenues will then be adequate for routine maintenance and maintenance costs will be manageable with less reactive and more proactive work
    • Deferred maintenance has a snowball effect due to the much higher cost to replace failed roads
  • A perception exists that the state is using state-controlled county roads as an ATM by diverting maintenance funds to pay for larger road projects due to a lack of transparency on how funding is spent
  • Like Alabama, Virginia has given "free" counties an unfair advantage in state payments.  Captive Counties in Alabama were also shortchanged
    • Payments to free counties should be modified with the condition that the counties provide routine maintenance of state-owned roads within those counties (excluding traffic control)
    • Thus, the "unfair advantage" is replaced with a balanced system.  This is discussed in the Two-Way Consolidated Road Maintenance Plan.  
  • Full state ownership of county roads potentially reduces the funding available for improvements on the primary state highway system unless state revenues are kept at a very high level meaning higher state taxes
    • State DOT's use this as a justification for devolution in that they believe state-aid road funds should be primarily for roads of greatest statewide importance
    • However, primary routes are still adequately funded in the consolidated system
    • If state agencies feel this is the case, then the best approach is to steer secondary funds uniformly to all county agencies with the intention that the counties that want to remain under state control have the state retain that funding as an "operations fee" with the local governments given a receipt each year showing how that funding was spent
    • The "operations fee" would cover either only routine maintenace or both routine maintenance and construction depending on the needs of each county
    • This approach balances out the "unfair advantage" in the "free" counties
  • State government is not accountable to county voters thus is more likely to ignore needs of a local nature
    • Giving local governments extra funding options through local option sales taxes, local option gas taxes, impact fees and/or ad valorem fees that can only be spent on transportation are necessary to provide local governments a way to fund construction and speed up maintenance projects regardless of whether the state remains in charge of local roads
    • This way the state is a partner to local governments instead of a large, remote agency sending state money elsewhere
    • Giving local governments funding options is NOT intended to be a devolution strategy.  It means that the local government finances improvements that are returned to to the state DOT upon completion for maintenance
These lessons are on display today as Virginia's approach to state control has led to not only substandard pavement conditions but also substandard roadway construction.  Roadways across the state are very outdated in design with narrow lanes, little to no shoulders, poor geometry, unsafe bridges, flooding problems and poor drainage.  Many of these roads were paved in the 1940's and 50's and have recurring maintenance problems requiring far more frequent resurfacing to keep in good condition.  In urban areas, the state has not provided badly needed intersection improvements, traffic lights/traffic circles, lane widening, sidewalks or other needed upgrades to provide safe and well-designed roads that match the heavy traffic volumes.  These are typically needs more likely to be championed by the local government, and local governments already spend as much as they are capable on secondary road construction projects.  However, the states are generally unwilling to raise the gas tax statewide.  Let is say a county in Virginia could choose from:

  1. 3-5 cent gas tax increase
  2. 1/2 to 1 cent sales tax
  3. Impact fees on new construction (only useful in high growth counties)
  4. Ad valorem taxes (not to be confused with vehicle property taxes)
State control of everything from interstates to cul-de-sacs is a problem, because it is essentially a commingling of funding for both highways and local roads with very different priorities.  The way around this is the partnership model like the one shown above where the state still maintains county roads, but the counties are given a lot more power to decide how well those roads are maintained.  The state then becomes the basic outfit while the county provides accessories.  Otherwise, funding for statewide needs will always compete with local needs with too little done to mitigate safety problems, maintenance problems and traffic bottlenecks on local-level roads.  Overall, the possibility of any significant state investment in operational improvements on secondary roads is quite low while the counties by and large are not able to steer enough of their own resources to begin the long and expensive work required to bring these roads to modern standards.  In fact, the majority of road work funded by the counties comes in the form of new construction.  A hybrid approach is the solution for that.

Local Examples of the State-Local Hybrid Approach

With these options, the county would have substantial funding to construct and maintain roads, BUT that does not mean that they take over maintenance.  Consider if Fairfax County, VA used a 1/2 cent sales tax to fund widenings and roadway reconstruction, and raised a 3 cent gas tax to fund the operations fee to pay back to VDOT for maintenance.  This way, the county actually is "maintaining" the roads, but they continue to trust the expertise of VDOT for routine maintenance while enjoying the economies of scale available from using a cooperative approach with the state.  VDOT would still budget the same amount as they did to Fairfax County, but the county would fill in the gaps.  In essense, the state did raise more money, but they entrusted it on a local level with it transferred back to the state based on the needs of the county.

Consider Loudoun County, VA.  How is Loudoun different?  For one, they are heavily involved in construction and often use impact fees as concessions from developers to pay for significant road projects and other infrastructure upgrades.  Thus, the county has successfully kept up with growth demands in places of heavy new construction as historic trails have to be quickly realigned to accommodate suburban sprawl.  The problem is, most of the functionally local roads that the county is not fixing are still in very poor condition.  Loudoun clearly needs more money as they are faced with the need to rapidly pave hundreds of miles of gravel roads, reconstruct others and modernize the county to meet growth demands.

Roads such as this in Loudoun County were only recently paved, but state funding was inadequate for this project.  It was paid for mostly by county funds then left to VDOT for maintenance.  It is considered a "rural rustic road" thus the narrow lanes and hilly geometry.  The county has routinely had to pave to this lower standard due to lack of funds to properly reconstruct roads.

Images such as this scene in Loudoun County highlight the depth of the construction backlog.  The county still has a large number of gravel roads, single-lane low-water bridges and roads with poor geometry that need to be completely realigned, widened and rebuilt.  You can see the state did a good job of warning of the hazards this bridge presents, but when it comes to construction this and many other counties in Virginia need better access to local financing to modernize potentially deadly roads such as this one.

While the county still enjoys and has no interest in ending their partnership with VDOT for maintenance of local roads, the county clearly needs additional local funding sources to modernize roads that cannot be improved with impact fees.  What if they could raise a local sales tax?  The county has substantial retail including a popular outlet mall.  If Loudoun was able to speed up improvements and catch up with the state's massive backlog, maybe VDOT would have an easier time maintaining what is already there.  VDOT is clearly capable of providing the basic outfit (resurfacing of major secondary roads, traffic control maintenance and summer/winter maintenance), but they are not fixing many roadways that remain in poor condition, paving new dirt roads or reconstruct shoddy-built roads.  It is the county that is mostly doing this.  If the county was able to get the county's roads up to state standards, pave every dirt road and rebuild every road in poor condition maybe then VDOT's available funds would be sufficient to maintain Loudoun's complicated road system. 


Nobody involved with roads in Virginia denies that the future of state control looks sketchy for the state's secondary highway system.  Obviously the 2013 compromise provided flexibility to the counties and improved state funding, but VDOT was already so far behind from years of deferred maintenance and construction that more is needed to catch up.  Cheaply built roads with poor drainage cost more to maintain, and a vast program is needed to not just better maintain the roads that are there, but also to do more to modernize roads in the more populous counties.

Secondary route reconstruction such as Rt. 603 (North Fork Rd) in Montgomery County to modern highway standards as well as improvements to non-federal-aid secondaries is needed at much higher levels than is presently occurring across the state.  This cannot be done unless a new local funding source is identified.

The vast sum of winding and extremely narrow roads is not just limited to rural counties.  Counties around Richmond, Northern Virginia and Charlottesville that have a much larger population also are full of these substandard roads, and these roads do have traffic volumes that justify reconstruction.  Counties such as Stafford have been using their own available funds to begin reconstructing secondary roads, but what they have been able to accomplish is still a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.  Traffic volumes on major roads are worsened when the secondary options discourage through traffic.  Improvements to these roads are vital for safety and economic progress.  Voters and legislators are not likely to continue to tolerate roads with terrible pavement, poor sight distance and inadequate design for decades to come.  In fact, it seems that the only roads that the state does an acceptable job maintaining are the federal-aid collectors and arterials both primary and secondary.  However, turning roads to the county is a proposition likely to result in a sharp decline in engineering and traffic control standards in most counties across the state.  Much of Virginia remains rural and will not have the resources to maintain their own roads to state standards regardless of available funding.  In addition, urban counties are not always reliable in funding and maintenance of roads as is evidenced in Montgomery County, MD.  

The solution lies in an approach where the state's role is diminished but not eliminated.  What went wrong in Alabama was that the state's role was completely eliminated.  Instead of adopting Lauderdale County's plan of keeping the state for routine maintenance only, the state completely exited the county road business.  The 1985 state takeover plan also did not include a provision to limit the state's powers, thus why it failed.  The key word is control.  The state's control structure will only work if local governments have broader funding and powers in road construction and maintenance on secondary state roads.  This means that the strategy must change.  However, a strategy of cooperative services with the state handling technical services and routine maintenance on account of the local governments should never change.

Another post details the devolution alternatives for both Virginia and West Virginia with specific details.  It lays out the specific strategies that should be adopted

    The most ideal solution is to keep VDOT in control of the roads they have controlled since 1932, but to allow local governments the ability to raise their own gas or sales taxes to speed up maintenance projects and finance far more road projects than the state can presently afford.  It is clear that not only is much more needed with reconstructing roads, but also to create roads that are safer for both motorists and pedestrians.  Primitive, narrow and winding roads with heavy traffic are a hazard for everyone that uses them, and local governments should not have to beg for help when the state has so many conflicting priorities.  Give the local governments the option to fund more road projects, but do not punish them for doing so by forcing them to take over road maintenance.  If this is still not possible, then perhaps in more populous regions of the state it might be time to consider developing a regional road system like the ones proposed in the Regional Roads Plan.  Some other ideas that might also help to fix this imbalance are as follows:

    • Traffic Control Cooperative Plan
      • Loudoun County certainly demonstrates that the state does some things better than the counties and the counties do some things better than the state.
      • Nowhere is this more true than with traffic operations
      • Local governments as a whole are not financially nor structurally suited to handle this technical operation that is too expensive to correctly administer without high standards, without high economies of scale and without a specialized agency that has a PTOE supervising engineer
      • Even if a county otherwise does an excellent job maintaining roads, they typically do a terrible job with traffic control
      • This is why even if road maintenance otherwise is transferred to a local level, this specific state function should remain under state control or transferred to a cooperative with state funding.
    • Statewide Contracting Plan
      • If VDOT exits the county road business, this responsibility should not fall directly on the county governments
      • Instead, interested counties and municipalities broker a deal to either allow secondary roads to transfer into a new state agency or to form their own interagency cooperative that handles secondary roads keeping VDOT as a contractor while the organization is being formed.
      • The state could also step in and address the concerns of local agencies by developing a separate state agency to handle local roads or a joint cooperative among all interested partners needs to replace this that would keep roads consolidated, but separate them from VDOT
      • The cooperative could co-locate facilities with VDOT, share equipment and operate as a statewide unit that just happens to be under the authority of the 93 counties formerly under state control.
      • The idea is that if counties must take over roads that they will NOT be required to set up separate road systems in each county.
      • This plan creates a balance and a safety net if the state forces the hand of the 93 counties across the state who have enjoyed relief from the higher costs associated with full local control
    • Farm-To-Market Cooperative Highway System Plan
      • This approach reduces, but does not eliminate VDOT's role of maintaining secondary roads
      • VDOT keeps partial control of the secondary state highway system with state control reduced to around 35-45% of the road network
      • Construction costs are passed on to counties and municipalities for all other roads
      • All counties can either retain VDOT as a contractor at their own expense for remaining roads or form a regional/statewide cooperative that ultimately assumes maintenance responsibility for both local and farm-to-market roads
    • Two-Way Consolidated Road Maintenance Plan
      • A major goal in Virginia should be to keep the historic consolidated road system consolidated, but with reforms to provide a degree of local control that has not previously been available
      • If all secondary roads are transferred to county authority for construction, that doesn't mean that the county and state should operate separately
      • Obviously two counties both construct and maintain their own road systems and others may soon join them such as Chesterfield County
      • If that's the case, then the counties should be given the same responsibility as cities: maintenance of state-owned roads
      • Perhaps this arrangement could be set up like the Local Exchange Plan with the state providing traffic operations work on local roads in turn for the county providing all other routine maintenance on state-owned roads even if it is not a match dollar for dollar
      • In this plan, either the county works for the state or the state works for the county.
      • Populous counties would benefit consolidated local maintenance of county and state routes while less populous counties could retain VDOT as the exclusive steward of both state and local roads

    The idea that either a state or local government agency should have total control of their own systems without any overlapping of duties or sharing of services is an antiquated and inefficient concept.  Most states today are too large to handle all local matters while most counties and municipalities are too small to handle matters that the state handles best.  This is why the captive county system failed in Alabama and why Virginia's secondary state highway system is also in danger of failing.  Local control is not a bad thing as long as it is understood that local governments cannot handle everything on their own.  The whole idea of local control is to make sure that local funding stays at home and that how that money is spent is accountable to local voters.  However, this does not mean that local government is either responsible or efficient to the degree that it actually works that way in every case.  As was said before, we need to think regionally, not locally.   Thinking regionally means that the gray area is explored as a solution either with an overlapping service structure between the states and local governments or the development of a regional governance model for transportation that places significant road responsibility on a level above the county or municipality but below the state: in other words, a state within a state.

    In all, the lessons learned from Alabama demonstrate that balance is needed.  Balance did not exist when the Alabama Highway Department (now ALDOT) managed the captive county roads, and balance does not exist today with the counties maintaining those same roads the state handled back then.  Local agencies need to understand that opposing a transfer to the local level will not be enough to stop it from happening.  Instead of ignoring the problem or turning back to the bad old days, local agencies are provided here with tools that give them the power to stop devolution by thinking outside the box for new funding allocation methods, new organization structures and elimination of the belief that local control on a county of municipal level is the solution to a construction and maintenance backlog.  Other local agencies in decentralized states also need to understand that they can enact centralization by adopting a similar strategy to what is described above.  While it is generally the duty of a state to delegate responsibilities to local governments, time and history have proven that not all local agencies are the same and that what is best for some may not work as well for others.  Roads should not be fully centralized nor should they be completely local.  Both agencies need each other's help, and the best way to do this is to allocate the responsibility in a way that is the most beneficial for all parties.  

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