FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
While Joseph Heller coined the phrase “Catch-22” in his novel by that name in 1961, the cities of Danville and Lynchburg must certainly believe they are caught in a “Catch-29” regarding their efforts to get around the Charlottesville bottleneck on US 29.
Merriam-Webster defines a Catch-22 as:
1 : a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule also : the circumstance or rule that denies a solution
2 a : an illogical, unreasonable, or senseless situation b : a measure or policy whose effect is the opposite of what was intended c : a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives
Virginia’s General Assembly has heard for many years the calls from localities south of Charlottesville pleading for a bypass. Interestingly there is a law on the books that seems to speak to Charlottesville’s specific situation. Reminding the gentle reader that I am not an attorney, I find this section from Virginia Code § 33.1-39 – Bypasses through or around cities and incorporated towns most interesting:
33.1-44 in any case where a municipality refuses to contribute to the construction of a bypass or an extension or connection of the primary system within said municipality the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner may construct such bypass or extension and connection without any contribution by the municipality when the Board determines that such bypass or extension and connection is primarily rural in character and that the most desirable and economical location is within said municipality. Any bypass or extension and connection built under this provision shall be maintained by the Commissioner as a part of the primary system and the municipality shall receive no payment for such bypass or extension and connection under § 33.1-41.1.
If the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner (at the direction of the Commonwealth Transportation Board) could build the bypass, and they have a desire for a Charlottesville bypass [not a foregone conclusion] why hasn’t it been done [or at least further discussed]?
Because Federal funding and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. According to the Federal Highway Administration:
What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)?
A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is defined in Federal Transportation Legislation (23 USC 134(b) and 49 USC 5303(c)) as the designated local decision making body that is responsible for carrying out the metropolitan transportation planning process. An MPO must be designated for each urban area with a population of more than 50,000 people (i.e., for each Urbanized Area (UZA) defined in the most recent decennial Census).
Who sits on the policy board for the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO? The voting members:
- Satyendra Huja, Charlottesville City Council
- Duane Snow, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
- Kristin Szakos, Charlottesville City Council
- Rodney Thomas, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
- James Utterback, VDOT Culpeper District Administrator
The “Catch-29” is that the very law designed to work around (pun intended) recalcitrant local officials to put forward state transportation priorities is dependent on local officials approval to gain funding.
With the Defense Intelligence Agency utilizing US 29 for its traffic flow, one might believe the corridor has increased in its strategic importance as a part of the National Highway System. If so, The Free Enterprise Forum is curious when will Federal Officials step in and mandate a bypass be built to ensure traffic throughput is maintained?
Or perhaps with the newly enforced primary arterial VDOT regulations that are in direct conflict with Places29 Vision, they have decided US 29 (at least North of the river crossing) will be designed to maximize transportation functions.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org