VDOT can help fight sediment if it shifts gears

By Bill Tanger

By Dave HarpDave Harp
One of Virginia’s biggest pollutants is sediment in its waters. It is one of the two leading pollutants driving state stormwater ordinances. Virginia’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) initiative, under the Clean Water Act, cites sediment as one of the top three pollutants. And the Virginia Department of Transportation is the largest source of sediment pollution.

Sediment is flushed into our waters from countless VDOT roads built to the standards of yesteryear. When VDOT took over the maintenance of county roads in 1932, it inherited roads built willy-nilly in the days of primitive or nonexistent engineering standards. As a result, VDOT now owns roads that are causing sediment pollution and are now VDOT’s responsibility.

For example, Roanoke County has a long list of sediment problems, many of which are caused by VDOT roads. The list has more than 200 problem sites, with an estimated repair cost of more than $3.5 million.

The proper nexus for this matter is VDOT because it is the only entity that can fix sediment problems statewide with any sort of long-term reliability and integrity. The department has two budgets: construction and maintenance. Sediment control falls under maintenance.

Friends of the Rivers of Virginia believes that legislation should be introduced to set aside one-half of 1 percent of the maintenance budget — roughly $10 million — each year to address sediment problems from older roads. Such a dedicated fund would at least provide a starting fund for these orphaned roads needing help.

A sediment fix fund dedicated to addressing the biggest offending sites that have gone begging for decades would benefit both stormwater and TMDL problems. Plus, it can be done by reallocating funds dedicated to this problem rather than increasing the budget.

The solution to sediment pollution in stormwater, TMDLs and many offending sites would be a bill in Virginia’s legislature to focus on these orphaned roads.

It will take time, but the problem can be fixed. We encourage legislators to address this problem now. Let’s get started.

Bill Tanger is chair of the Friends of the Rivers of Virginia. Distributed by Bay Journal.

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