The Places29 Boondoggle – Lessons Learned


By. Neil Williamson

On Tuesday, October 27th, at 6:00 pm in Lane Auditorium of the Albemarle County Office Building The Albemarle County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Master Plan for the Northern portion of The US 29 corridor.  The plan, now known as Places29, has gone through an exhaustive consultant driven process that wore out all but the most strident of citizen participants.   places29_web

We have been involved in this process since the beginning, some of the changes we suggested eventually did make it into the final draft.  It is with some disappointment that we can not support the Places29 plan.  

Here are some of the lessons we have learned in the building of this boondoggle

Land Use should inform Transportation Planning Decisions

Places29 started with the concept that land use planning and transportation planning should be conducted by localities in concert.  The Free Enterprise Forum disagrees.  While land use policy should be locally driven, transportation policy impacts far beyond the borders of any locality.  Local land use policy should inform the  regionally agreed upon transportation planning to suit the needs of the entire corridor not just the three miles on either side of it to the county line.

Community Master Plan Steering Committees Should Include A Cross Section of The Community Impacted 

Once the Albemarle County Planning Commission decided that it as a body would be the

credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

steering committee for Places29, it inadvertently left out the community participation and engagement.  While the PC has attempted to reach into the community, having a community “insider” on the steering committee has been critical to the success of the Pantops Master Plan and the Crozet Master Plan.

In addition, by mandating the PC be the steering committee resulted in less flexibility in meeting times and locations as well as less input from the very citizens this will impact the greatest.

Consultants Should Be Contracted to Appear for Public Hearings

If Albemarle County believes it needs to engage consultant design companies to complete the master planning work, they should develop contracts that mandate the consultant be available for public questions as the work finally gets to the citizens.  Too many questions have been answered that the consultant is no longer under contract so we may not be able to get the answer.  This is unacceptable.

Realistic Project Timelines should be included as part of the plan.

Places29 is the Kitchen Sink method of planning.  I will ask the Planning Commissioners on Tuesday night if any one of them honestly believes they will see even a majority of the projects in the plan accomplished (or started) within the mandated 20 year planning window.  If they can’t be built within the window – they should be dropped from the plan.

Project Dollars not Current Dollars should be used for Master Plans

The Free Enterprise Forum has agreed to disagree with the Planning Commission on this point.  We agree with VDOT’s methodology for calculating project costs, use National Highway Administration materials escalator and an inflation factor to determine the cost in the year it is projected to be completed.  If it is a series of years use the mid point.  The Albemarle County Planning Commission prefers to use current dollars indicating these are the most accurate numbers available.  I regret calling this the “Ostrich” method of calculating costs.

Have Study Partners Agree/Coordinate Your Conclusions

The Virginia Department of Transportation is a $400,000 partner in this $1.6 Million Dollar Study.  One would think when their consultant report came out regarding the Places 29 Corridor it would mirror the Places29 recommendations.  It does not in both additional information, the Kroger Flyover, Easter Bypass (since scuttled) and Leonard Sandridge Extended (since scuttled), and in errors of omission, Berkmar Drive Extended.  I must humbly note I predicted such Consultant Conflict in both my June 24th and September 10th Blog post.

Answer Specific Feasibility Questions Specifically

In March of last year the Free Enterprise Forum issued a report that questioned the viability of constructing the Rio Interchange.  Rather than answering the question directly, the commission heard that such roads are built every year and this would be no different.  

Expect Debate over New Tax Power

If as a part of the new transportation land use planning dynamic localities plan to discuss funding options for the half billion dollar price tag, they should expect debate of such a SuperTax.

In short, the Places29 Master Planning Process has gone off the tracks. 

  • It does not enjoy widespread citizen support or understanding
  • Large segments may never be built
  • It can’t be completed in the twenty year planning window
  • There are no funds available to implement the plan
  • There is much community distrust of the plan

For these reasons, and others you can find on the blog, we belive the Planning Commission should reconsider Places29 along the lines of What David Benish called The Big Five.  We believe the community could wrap its collective head around five ideas that might actually get constructed in our lifetimes rather than an extensive utopian new urbanism vision that will likely not be built out in the next generation.

Approving Places29 in its current form is a false promise to residents of a future that can’t be funded or built.  Some might call this action “perpetuating public fraud”, I prefer “Boondoggle”.


2 responses

  1. Neil, “perpetuating the island mentality of the Albemarle-Charlottesville community.” You got that exactly right! How long can Albemarle/Charlottesville continue to stick it’s thumb in the eye of the rest of the Commonwealth? Some day they will need true regional cooperation from the surrounding counties and the cost will be a streamlined Rt 29, hopefully in the form of a Western Bypass – but when that day comes (perhaps not in our lifetime) it will be politically ugly, painul, and very expensive….

  2. […] we speak out about the boondoggle that is Places29, we want the world to hear, not just our […]

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