Roads – How did we get here and where do we go now?

This article provides some background information about the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Secondary System of State Highways, the community roads maintained by VDOT and those that are not maintained by VDOT, and the conditions required to bring those roads into the State system for maintenance.

How did we get here?

In 1932, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that created the secondary system of state highways.  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was designated to manage and maintain the secondary system of State roads.  All the roads in our community, whether VDOT maintained or not, belong to the secondary system of state highways.

Over the years, VDOT prescribed minimum standards for new streets and developed guidelines to ensure older roads could become eligible for acceptance into the state-maintained secondary system.  In Glebe Harbor and Cabin Point, many of the roads met eligibility requirements to come into the state system when the community was initially developed.  Other roads did not meet some of those requirements, such as serving at least three occupied homes, and thus were not eligible to be taken into the state system.

Once the original developers completed the sale of existing lots within the plated subdivision, they had no further responsibility towards maintaining the roads that did not yet meet the eligibility requirements for inclusion in the state system.  By default, the responsibility for maintenance of those roads then fell to the property owners within the two subdivisions.

Each subdivision established a voluntary civic association with responsibility for certain functions previously carried out by the developer or reserved to lot owners (e.g., covenants, maintenance of non-VDOT roads, mowing of limited common areas).  Property owners could join the voluntary association and pay annual dues to cover the costs of addressing these responsibilities.  Over time, fewer and fewer property owners joined and paid annual dues, diminishing the ability of the associations to carry out these responsibilities. With the eventual discovery that the original developers had not legally assigned these responsibilities to the civic associations as successor organizations, the associations’ membership voted to dissolve and transferred their remaining assets to the GHCPA to be used primarily for minimal maintenance on non-State roads until those funds are exhausted.

 How do older roads become state-maintained?

Generally, to be eligible for state maintenance older, privately maintained, public roads must:

  • Have been in public use for at least 20 years.
  • Be available for the public to use 24 hours a day.
  • Have a right of way that is available to be dedicated to public use and is:
    • Wide enough (usually 40 feet) to meet minimum safety standards.
    • Sufficient to permit future maintenance.
    • Be unencumbered by utility placement.
  • Serve at least three occupied homes.
  • Be able to safely handle the traffic volume.
  • Connect to other roads already maintained by VDOT.

By law, the board of supervisors must take formal action to approve the addition of these roads to the secondary system of state highways and request VDOT to maintain them.  The process to add existing non-VDOT roads to the highway system begins with the local board of supervisors.  However, the board of supervisors must also identify the source of funding to be used to finance any improvements that are needed to meet standards of eligibility for state maintenance.

What if improvements are needed to meet state standards?

In many cases, when the cost of maintaining these roads becomes unaffordable to property owners, citizens seek public assistance to improve them to standards that make the roads eligible for state maintenance.  State funds for this purpose are very limited, but eligible counties may finance the cost of improving qualifying roads from funds from:

  • The County’s General Fund.
  • A special assessment of the property owners served by the road.
  • Revenue derived from the sale of bonds.

Finally, pursuant to the Code of Virginia, every county may use revenue sharing program funds matched with county funding to bring subdivision streets used by motor vehicles for at least 20 years, up to standards sufficient to qualify for state maintenance.  The revenue sharing program funds are the principal funding source by which the non-State roads in our community, that otherwise meet VDOT’s eligibility requirements, may be brought up to current state standards and taken into the state system for maintenance.

The key phrase here is revenue sharing program funds.  The funds come from the community, from the county, and from VDOT.  At this point, the county funds previously available for this program have been diverted by the General Assembly to support the Hampton Roads tunnel project.  So, the funding costs for any GH or CP road that we propose for inclusion in the state system would be split 50/50 with VDOT.

What steps must be taken?

To initiate the street acceptance process, our community will need to gain the support of the County Board of Supervisors and then the following steps must be taken in order.

  1. The Board of Supervisors considers requests from citizens to add roads to the secondary system of state highways. The locality coordinates the eligibility review of proposed additions.
  2. VDOT advises the locality of the requirements, improvement costs, and other issues related to the acceptance of proposed road additions.
  3. The Board of Supervisors must guarantee the right of way for the road and take formal action to make the road part of the secondary system.
  4. The Board of Supervisors formally requests VDOT to add the road to the secondary highway system for maintenance.
  5. VDOT accepts the maintenance responsibility for the road as part of the secondary system.

It is important to understand that these basic steps summarize broadly the eligibility factors and considerations made regarding the addition and improvement of older roads for inclusion in the secondary system of state highways.  There may be other issues not addressed in this general information from VDOT that also apply.

What steps have been taken to bring the non-State roads in Glebe Harbor and Cabin Point into the State system?

In March 2023, we updated the listing of non-State roads in both Glebe Harbor and Cabin Point and provided the information to the County.  The listing included the number of occupied homes and identified those roads serving as connector roads between two State roads.  The County, on our behalf, requested that VDOT conduct a field review to assist us in developing cost estimates to bring some of the roads into the State system.

VDOT staff advised us that precise estimates of costs could not be done until the road(s) under consideration had at least three homes or serve as connector roads between two State roads, and the County was prepared to apply for revenue-sharing funds.  In addition to these requirements, VDOT indicated that some of our roadways need drainage easements or require further surveying to determine if drainage easements are needed to manage water run-off.  These additional requirements will require funding beyond what could be supported by the community through the revenue-sharing program at this time.

To help us plan for future funding to bring non-VDOT roads into the State system, VDOT advised us that the current rough cost estimate for building older roads to State standards is $120/linear foot of road surface, but that this cost estimate may only be good for 6 months to a year.  We are using this rule of thumb to develop rough estimates of the future funding costs for which we need to plan.

In the meantime, what’s happening?

The GHCP Association will be utilizing the funds transferred from the former civic associations to provide minimal maintenance on non-VDOT roads in the community.  The CPCA completed such maintenance on the two roads in Cabin Point that were in the worst condition earlier this spring, just prior to the dissolution.  The GHCA provided specific recommendations on the two roads in Glebe Harbor that were in the worst condition at the time of dissolution.  We are presently evaluating the final bids to address these two roads.  We hope to announce that minimal maintenance work will begin first on Erica Drive and then on Weatherall Drive in the next few weeks.

For the long-term, the community will need a sustainable funding source to provide minimal maintenance on all the existing non-State roads in the community and to prepare these roads for future inclusion in the State system.  We are looking at different options to address this need and will update the community as specific proposals are developed.

posted 10.28.23