VDOT – The New Sheriff in Town or Toothless Wonder?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentRt29logo

In last night’s (9/29) Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  presentation on the Route 29 Corridor Study, started with the admonition that there is no funding to build any of the projects depicted on the presentation boards surrounding the room.

By my count, over 150 people were in attendance and there was a great deal of citizen anger regarding the two proposed solutions for US 29 in Charlottesville.  Board of Supervisors Members Dennis Rooker and David Slutzky both expressed significant doubts that either the “flyover Kroger” or the Leonard Sandridge extension would ever get built.  Considering Mr. Rooker and Mr. Slutzky are the County’s representatives on the Metropolitan Planning  Organization (MPO), their words have significance.

Interestingly no one has commented on one of the study’s major recommendations (page 10):

Legislation relative to access management, development of Corridor Implementation Plan, enhancing planner/practitioner tools for transportation and land use planning

Tools to remove traffic signals over the long-term, alter procedures so that new signals include an “exit” strategy

I was intrigued by these ideas and asked a VDOT veteran involved in the study.  He indicated VDOT desperately needs this power to place them as an equal parter with the locality in negotiating access to US 29.  If VDOT has their way, access in the future will not be directly on US 29 it will be on a secondary street.  VDOT now has an advisory role but localities can choose to ignore the VDOT advice.

To be clear, every traffic signal on US 29 has gone in with VDOT consent.  While VDOT is seemingly placing the US 29 blame all on the localities, clearly they too were a part of this party.  Now, this 1.5 Million dollar study suggests US 29’s planning corridors should be overseen jointly by VDOT and localities rather than just the localities.  After my discussion with the VDOT veteran, I spoke with a member of The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors who suggested there was no way VDOT would get that power.

So,what did I learn at this meeting?

  • There is no money for any of the transportation projects proposed.
  • VDOT wants to build a road on land that it already owns (mostly), Albemarle doesn’t — the road will likely not get built.
  • VDOT wants to be the new sheriff to “redefine and expand VDOT’s role as steward of the Route 29 transportation system” in the name of better transportation, the localities don’t want to give up this power, all politics being local, it is unlikely such legislative changes occur.

Absent these legislative actions, there is little chance the localities will uniformly deny access to US 29 throughout the corridor.  If controlled access and integrated side street systems are required for success and the localities refuse to grant VDOT such powers, the Route 29 Corridor Study  is a $1.5 million dollar toothless wonder to be added to the bookshelf.

How else could we have spent $1.5 million transportation dollars?

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