The continuing building boom means the cost of construction in Northern Virginia keeps going up—including for the local government.
As major infrastructure projects like the Silver Line and Loudoun’s road system, propelled by an infusion of state and federal money, compete with private sector projects, construction companies and contractors are in high demand, driving their prices up.
And Loudoun budget officers continually re-evaluate how much money the county needs to build the rest of the projects on its ever-growing list.
County budget and construction staff members have repeatedly seen bids for projects come in higher than their expected budgets. Director of Management and Budget Erin McLellan told county supervisors on the finance committee this month that “this year we really took a hard look” at whether the county is planning for enough inflation and contingency money in its long-term projects.
And with the county government opening new schools every year and taking on large transportation projects that would nominally be the state’s responsibility, costs will only mount.
“One of things that we’re starting to experience as a lot of our construction is aging, especially with the schools, is that we have a need to have a more concerted effort to maintain those facilities for future use,” McLellan said. Staff members in county offices and school administration have already begun accounting for that.
That has also meant that new projects go to the back of the line. County supervisors routinely ask to add new construction projects—or move existing plans up in line—to the county’s six-year, $2.4 billion Capital Improvement Program. But between rising costs and needs, there isn’t much wiggle room in that plan.
McLellan said moving anything up in that schedule is probably going to mean “some choices or tradeoffs.”
“I would just encourage the board to be mindful of what Erin said at the end here, which is that if we do want to accelerate any of these items, other things are going to have to change or be moved out, and we really want to stick to a progression through the six years of projects so that the oldest projects that have been around the longest are moving forward,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
That means projects like a neighborhood park on the property of the future Lightridge High School, intersection improvements on Rt. 9, parks along the Broad Run and Goose Creek, and widening Rt. 7 near the Dulles Greenway will have to wait until 2027 for funding.
The county also helps fund some projects for the towns, although only a fraction of the towns’ requests found their way into the county budget. This year, Loudoun’s towns requested $23.3 million worth of funding, but will receive only $8.3 million. Those include projects like sidewalk repair in Hamilton, work on Rt. 9 and the Old Stone School in Hillsboro, road projects in Lovettsville, and work on the floors and restrooms in the Bush Tabernacle in Purcellville.
None of Leesburg’s projects—such as a play area at the AV Syington Aquatic Center, road and sidewalk projects, and the airport’s new remote tower center—made the funding cut.
“I don’t know what the Town of Leesburg was thinking,” said Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “They come to us with over $15 million of requests, and when I look at these requests, they’re funded already.”
He noted every one of the projects in the town’s request already have funding planned through other means. Buona said, “it’s almost like they tried to take their [Capital Improvement Program] with funding in it for these projects and say, ‘county, just do our CIP for us so we can go spend all this other money however we want.’”
The supervisors also declined to fund Purcellville’s work to update its transportation plan.
The committee also recommended spending $47.6 million in year-end fund balance on projects like making the county’s bus stops compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a continuing safety audit on Evergreen Mills Road, Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge)’s proposed conservation easement assistance program, and replacing an emergency services radio tower in Loudoun Heights.