VAA and VDOT Talk Big Picture

Sometimes it is best to talk about generalities; other times, it’s better to talk about specifics. On April 27, VDOT’s senior leadership, the Virginia Deputy Secretary of Transportation and the VAA Board of Directors met to discuss the big picture for the state’s transportation program. While VDOT and VAA have had numerous meetings on specific topics over the last 24 months, this was the first occasion to step back and talk about the challenges facing the transportation program and the opportunities for advancement.

The meeting, led by VAA Chair Chris Blevins and VDOT Commissioner of Highways Stephen Brich, touched on several areas. Blevins spoke about the challenges related to workforce shortages, material supply shortages, inflation and work zone safety. He talked about opportunities for incorporating e-technology, delivering a program in new ways and sustainability. Finally, he expressed his appreciation on behalf of the industry to Chief Engineer Bart Thrasher and Deputy Chief Engineer Shane Mann for the Construction Division’s diligence in executing paving schedule projects quickly in 2023. Many contractors have been paving since February once their contracts were executed and notice to proceed issued.

Commissioner Brich followed Blevins’s comments by touching on the challenges but focusing on the program’s positives. VDOT has the same workforce issues; he hopes to have a competent workforce in Virginia – whether they work for VDOT, industry or consultants. He said that together, we must strive to keep skilled engineers and technicians in the Commonwealth. Next, Brich discussed the status of the transportation funding. Since 2017, the VDOT six-year improvement program (SYIP) has doubled from $10B to $20B. VDOT will be adding nearly 1,500 new projects to the next SYIP. When the maintenance and operation funds are added to the construction funds, the program has a value of $40B. Finally, Brich stated, “The targets are the targets are the targets.” VDOT has committed to reaching performance targets for pavements, structures and other assets. This commitment was seen in the 2022 paving season when inflation caused fuel, asphalt and other materials to skyrocket in cost. Unlike previous years, the maintenance paving program was not reduced to match the initial funding. Instead, VDOT moved money from the construction to the maintenance program to cover the increased costs. This was a paradigm shift, and the industry thanked VDOT for this shift.

Following the opening comments from Blevins and Brich, Deputy Secretary Rachel Jones discussed the support for transportation from the Governor’s Office and looked forward to working with industry. Meeting attendees discussed topics ranging from Environmental Product Declarations and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises to concerns with local assistance program projects. The meeting ended with a commitment to address the specific topics raised during the meeting and continue the open, big-picture dialogue in the future. The group is targeting another meeting in the fall of 2023.