Colonial National Historical Park awaits $420 million in backlogged repairs. Now what?

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The Colonial National Historical Park has over $420 million in backlog repairs from the National Parks Service. (WYDaily/Flickr)
The Colonial National Historical Park has over $420 million in backlog repairs from the National Parks Service. (WYDaily/Flickr)

As a backlog of improvements for national parks across the country continues to grow, the National Colonial Historical Parkway waits on $420 million in repairs.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) reintroduced the Restore our Parks Act on Feb.14 that might alleviate some of that cost. According to a news release from the senator’s website, Warner is working with senators from Ohio, Tennessee and Maine to pass bipartisan legislation to address the $12 billion National Parks Service maintenance backlog.

The Restore Our Parks Act would redirect $1.3 billion annually that would go toward maintaining and repairing national parks like the National Colonial Historic Parkway.

“For years, our national parks have been plagued with underfunding while also dealing with a mounting backlog of repair needs, totaling nearly $12 billion,” said Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive officer for National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement. “The bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act would make a much needed and significant investment to address these and so many more infrastructure needs in national parks across the country, ensuring they are ready to welcome the next generation of park visitors.”

Of the 19 national parks in Virginia listed on Warner’s website, Colonial National Historical Park had the highest cost of deferred maintenance in 2017 by nearly $200 million.

But in the Colonial National Historical Park, the issue isn’t simply preserving the history of the site—it’s maintaining a level of safety for visitors.

A large portion of the park’s bill comes from repairs needed for bridges and roads. The most significant cost is the $261.9 million needed for the Colonial Parkway.

“Sometimes there is just repaving that has to be done,” said John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association. “But oftentimes there are deeper structural issues that visitors don’t necessarily see but can cost a lot of money.”

According to the National Park Service website, a study in 2014 revealed that most of the parkway’s roads were in poor condition. It has been over four years, with an estimated four million drivers on the parkway each year, and the parkway’s repairs are still part of a backlog for which NPS needs more funding.

Here are some roads and bridges that need the most funding:

  • Colonial Parkway Route One, $261.9 million
  • Felgates Creek Bridge, $14.2 million
  • Indian Field Creek Bridge, $6.4 million
  • Kings Creek Bridge, $7.6 million

If the problem continues and visitor safety becomes a greater concern, Garder said NPS will have to shut down parts of the park if they are not able to pay for repairs.

“The park service takes the safety of their guests very seriously,” he said. “They might have to shut down certain facilities. The parks service is doing their best with the resources they have, but this isn’t a problem that can go on forever. There would have to be closed facilities or irreparable damage.”

If passed, the Restore Our Parks Act would help to pay for part of those costs through a mineral revenue fund, according to a document from NPS.

The fund would come from “mineral revenues due and payable to the United States that are not otherwise credited, covered, or deposited under Federal law,” the document said.

Garder said that means the revenue would come from both off and on-shore energy activities. So, after all other obligations from those funds are met, a portion of what is left over would go to the special parks service maintenance account.

“With the current funding, the vast majority comes from the annual appropriations process and through a fee revenue from visitors and other means,” Garder said. “And while there have been some increases those funds are still vastly insufficient to deal with the scope of this need.”

The Colonial National Historical Park did not respond for comment.

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