APPENDIX B: LOCAL GOVERNANCE AND RULES IN VIRGINIA


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The Commonwealth of Virginia is made up of 95 counties, 39 independent cities and approximately 190 incorporated towns. Counties are administrative divisions of Virginia, each with its own government. Independent cities are legally distinct from the county that surrounds them and interact with the Commonwealth directly. They are considered county equivalents and have their own government. Towns are the only other type of municipal government authority in Virginia and they interact with the Commonwealth through the county government. Towns are a part of the counties within which they are located, with the county usually responsible for some of the town’s services.

VDOT maintains all of the interstate and most primary routes throughout Virginia. VDOT maintains the secondary roads for all but two counties, Arlington County and Henrico County. Independent cities generally are responsible for building and maintaining all secondary roads (streets), and some maintain primary routes within their jurisdiction for which they receive an allocation from the commonwealth. However, for most of Virginia’s towns, all streets are maintained by VDOT as primary or secondary routes.

Dillon Rule:

The Dillon Rule is the doctrine that a unit of local government may exercise only those powers that the state expressly grants to it while Home Rule provides a city or county with a greater measure of selfgovernment. Although the Dillon Rule is a concept found in all states, most states have adopted various types of Home Rule provisions that permit some or all of their local governments to undertake those governmental functions that are not specifically precluded by the laws of those states.

Virginia is considered to employ the strictest interpretation of the Dillon Rule and the Virginia courts have determined that local governments have only limited authority based on the specific powers expressly conferred on them by the General Assembly. Among other restrictions, this limits the local governments’ ability to raise funds for transportation and other improvements. The Dillon Rule may limit local officials and prevent them from quickly reacting to unique local problems with a specifically tailored local response. For instance, a local government might be prevented by the Dillon Rule from requiring developers to extend improvements off-site of their projects to provide connectivity with an existing bicycling facility. There are periodic calls from within Virginia to reverse the Dillon Rule and institute Home Rule.

The Code of Virginia:

The 1950 Code of Virginia is currently in force and is the statutory law of Virginia. Every person riding a bicycle on a road shall be subject to the provisions of the Code of Virginia section on motor vehicles and shall have the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle unless a provision clearly indicates otherwise. Bicyclists and motorists basically have the same rights and duties, and the laws governing traffic regulation apply equally to both. See a summary of Virginia bicycle laws.

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Guide for Reviewing Public Road Design and Bicycling Accommodations for Virginia Bicycling Advocates