By. Neil Williamson, President
A last minute item was added to the Wednesday’s (11/16) agenda of Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting that exposed a growing rift between Mr. Stephen Williams, the Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
Prior to the meeting, the members of the MPO received an electronic copy of a November 14th letter addressed to Mr. Williams from Jim Utterback, Culpeper District Administrator (and a voting member of the MPO). The letter said in part:
“VDOT has requested electronic copies of all activities covered under the 1st Quarter Progress Report, Task 2E, Data and Model Development, for review on numerous occasions. This request includes …. To date this information has not been provided to VDOT for review.
You have five (5) business days from the date of this letter to submit the requested information to VDOT for review, or risk jeopardizing reimbursement.” (emphasis added- nw)
The reimbursement language relates to invoices the MPO submits to VDOT for work conducted under the Charlottesville Albemarle MPO Fiscal Year 2012 Work Plan. There was disagreement between Williams and Utterback whether VDOT had the authority to withhold such payment.
The primary disagreement surrounded the release of electronic traffic modeling files developed over the last 10 months by the TJPDC. VDOT, per an existing agreement, is responsible for validating the travel demand model package. Williams had drafted a letter of agreement for VDOT to sign requiring VDOT to provide TJPDC access to all input and output files anytime the model was run for public use.
Mr. Utterback indicated this was the first time he was aware of an MPO ever refusing to share traffic modeling data with the State. He indicated the agreement Mr. Williams had drafted would require state approval and he did not have the authority to sign it. As the agreement would set precedent, he anticipated its approval would take time. Meanwhile the model that has not been validated by VDOT would be used by TJPDC to make transportation planning decisions.
Mr. Williams (photo left) said that the MPO Policy Board should have learned this summer (during the Western Bypass discussions) that you can’t trust VDOT unless you have leverage.
The meeting was quite tense with Mr. Williams at one point chiding Mr. Utterback asking, “How many states have you worked in Jim?”
As one MPO Board member was suggesting providing the conditions for use of the files. Mr Williams suggested he was uncomfortable with that solution as he did not think VDOT honor such conditions.
Another idea, to copyright the models, was unworkable because public funds had been used to create these “public” but not released models. Publicly created models ca not be copyrighted.
In the end, by a 4-1 vote (Szakos opposed), the MPO Policy Board directed Mr. Williams to release the files to VDOT along with a letter outlining their use.
Considering the importance of VDOT to the mission, and funding of operations of the MPO, the Free Enterprise Forum is curious how this latest debate will impact the relationship between these organizations.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Virginia Department of Transportation, Greene County Record