By. Neil Williamson
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is holding a series of meetings throughout the State regarding their Route 29 Corridor Study. The Charlottesville area meeting is Monday, February 9th from 4 pm – 7 pm at the Albemarle County Office Building at 5th Street Extended. If you are unable to attend the meetings but have an opinion regarding US 29, e-mail Joseph.Springer@parsons.com.
The purpose of this process according to VDOT is:
“to develop a draft Blueprint that will guide land development and transportation improvements and will be presented to the Commonwealth Transportation Board by November 2009.”
Based on the level of discussion in recent Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meetings it is equally important to define what the Blueprint is NOT. Again from the VDOT website:
The Blueprint is NOT a project. (emphasis in original) The Blueprint is not a transportation funding plan. The Blueprint is not an environmental document.
So faced with this dilemma, VDOT will conduct scheduled a series of meetings to hear from citizens and local officials their opinions about US Route 29 corridor. They will review the previous study data, and utilize the expertise of Parsons Transportation Group to develop a multimodal full corridor draft blueprint, that is not more than it is.
What is working behind the scenes is a decades old battle between Charlottesville and localities to the south. Many in Danville and Lynchburg firmly believe Charlottesville/Albemarle constriction of US 29 traffic is hindering their community’s economic development. Late last year, the Danville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce called for the Charlottesville/Albemarle MPO to be disbanded.
It is interesting the specific language VDOT uses to define the efforts around the US Route 29 Corridor Blueprint:
This planning effort will take a broad look at key features along the corridor to identify common ground and build the consensus vision needed from the various governments along and citizens who utilize the corridor.
In October of last year, the Lynchburg and Danville Chambers of Commerce expressed their frustration in a letter to Governor Tim Kaine. Brian McNeill of the Daily Progress has the story. The Daily Progress quoted Lynchburg Chamber President Rex Hammond:
“The issue is far too important to the future of the U.S. 29 communities to ignore any longer,” Rex Hammond, president and CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “For 18 years, the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO has failed to advance any plan for a U.S. 29 Bypass. It is scandalous that $50 million of taxpayer money has languished for 18 years.”
It is not just Lynchburg and Danville that are concerned about the logjam in Charlottesville. In a recent editorial that appeared in Nelson County Life Editorial (and many other papers) weighed in on the conflict:
The response from Charlottesville? A spokeswoman for the MPO said the group is “ahead of the curve” in transportation planning and cited Kaine’s support for U.S. transportation efforts involving more mass transit and fuel-efficient vehicles.
Ann Whitham, who coordinates the Charlottesville MPO’s work as part of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said the “Charlottesville area is not lacking for progress in transportation planning.” The city’s approach, she added, calls for mass transit and other modes of transportation, “not just another road.”
There’s the problem. The bypass around Charlottesville is not “just another road” built to serve the needs of real estate and shopping center developers. It is a road that would eliminate the bottleneck in Charlottesvillethat has existed on U.S. 29 for more than 20 years. And mass transit has nothing to do with it.
Rex Hammond and the Lynchburg chamber are right. A new set of Charlottesville transportation planners may see the need for a bypass around Charlottesville more clearly. The current planners are obviously too busy finding new ways to avoid the subject. Mass transit is their latest excuse.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the results of VDOT’s US Route 29 Corridor Blueprint ProjectProcess will be influenced by not only the citizen comments but also by the variety of planners working on the project process in a multitude of capacities. While we encourage citizen involvement in the project process, we remain skeptical regarding the achievability of the goals of this 1.5 million dollar project process.
Based on our experience with such studies we see two potential directions for the results. The first, and more likely, option will be to speak in fuzzy terms about common ground surrounding the need for increased safety improvements, through put and multimodal opportunities while ignoring the 800 pound bypass gorilla in the room. The second option is to present a strong position, backed up by the multitude of studies already conducted, regarding the viability of a bypass (any bypass) around Charlottesville. While the first option may result in some grumbling among those plugged into transportation issues, the second will likely generate significant uproar among citizens (and politicos) throughout this very influencial corridor.
Will VDOT choose the road less taken?