The Colonial National Historical Parkway has been part of an overall billion-dollar backlog of repairs for national parks across the country and funding for these repairs is in question during the coronavirus.
The Colonial Parkway had accumulated $420 million in backlogged repairs in 2019 but that number has risen to $433.9 million in 2020, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
Approximately $288 million of that total is needed for paving roads, $64 million for maintaining bridges and $39 million for the marina and waterfront systems.
“It’s no surprise that the backlog at the [Colonial Parkway] has grown,” said John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association. “It reflects the broader national situation with now $12 billion in repair needs at national parks.”
Garder said the Colonial National Historical Park’s repairs shouldn’t be a threat to public safety because the National Parks Service, which maintains the area, prioritizes visitor safety and puts immediate resources toward any areas that could pose a danger.
But this backlog of repairs means national parks such as the Colonial National Historical Park are suffering in regards to a long-standing infrastructure.
The backlog has been growing in recent years because despite increases in funding sources, there is an insufficient amount of money to address all the needs which causes the growth of disrepair to continue.
Garder said those repairs are increasing because most of the national parks were built when the parks system first started in 1916 and then during the 1930s the civilian conservation corps constructed additional various facilities. Congress invested in infrastructure repairs on the 50th anniversary of the parks in 1966, but since then the infrastructure has been decaying for decades without the capital investment necessary to thrive.
“This is old infrastructure and has not received the level of investment needed to keep it up,” Garder said.
The growing backlog is why it’s important for Congress to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, which is up for vote this week. It’s a hybrid of two previous acts which combines repairs for national parks and public lands infrastructure while protecting access through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Great American Outdoors Act would provide 50 percent of all federal revenue from oil, gas, coal or alternative energy to a fund that will be used to address the deferred maintenance backlog, according to legislation.
Garder believes the bill is more important than ever during a time of economic uncertainty.
“One thing the pandemic has demonstrated is that people cherish their national parks and other public lands,” he said. “Now more than ever, they look forward to visiting these special places which is one reason this bill is so important.”
The bill and the conservation of national parks would help to generate jobs across the country, as work would begin on maintaining and preserving aspects of the parks which would also help to bring greater visitation and grow the need for more employees, Garder said.
“It’s an investment that can help the economy recover and support the places that Americans cherish and look forward to returning when the pandemic is over,” he said.
The Colonial Parkway has remained mostly open during the pandemic for visitors to walk, ride and drive on. But with the needed repairs growing, it’s unclear how much funding the Colonial Parkway would receive should the act be passed.
Garder said while not all of the maintenance would be addressed, the highest priority repairs would be funded. An annual list of repairs would be compiled by NPS each year and would rely on the parks system to prioritize projects that are critical to the mission of the parks.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), who helped introduce the bill in March, said the Colonial National Historical Park has the largest number of backlog repairs out of 19 national parks in Virginia.
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