Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Sir Winston Churchill – November 1942
This Churchill quote came to mind as the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted 3-2 (Szakos and Huja opposed) to move forward with the US29 Western Bypass that had been authorized for funding by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) just one week prior. While the endeavor to improve transportation is nowhere near as important as the Second World War, the quote provides the proper context to where we stand today – and the way ahead.
The Charlottesville City Representatives on the MPO (City Councilors Kristin Szakos and Satyendra Huja) were pressing for a delay in the decision as one important piece of information, a letter from Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton (photo), was received less than a half hour prior to the start of the meeting. Szakos expressed concern that neither the balance of City Council not the City Attorney were provided the opportunity to review the letter. After a motion to defer failed 2-3. The motions to move the projects forward passed 3-2.
After the vote, long time bypass opponent and former MPO member, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) spoke to the Board under other matters from the public. He indicated in his long tenure of public service he had never seen a board operate in the manner the MPO just did. He was “ashamed” of their actions.
Earlier in the evening, some of the speakers mentioned how this vote would influence their thinking regarding how they would vote for their local representation. Others suggested, despite the anticipated loss on this vote, their organizations would fight on – and win.
All of this is to suggest that the energized and polarized atmosphere that has been evident in the region shows no sign of dissipating and in fact will likely increase in pitch as local elections draw near.
One need only look at the approved (and previously permitted) community water supply plan or the long awaited Meadowcreek Parkway to see how an energized opposition can create legal, political, and regulatory roadblocks to projects.
In addition, the fact that the MPO was split along City/County lines does not speak well for future cooperation. There are some in the community that have suggested this dissention will lead to future conflict on the Community Water Supply Plan. While we hope this is not the case, there was an air of resentment in the air after the vote to defer failed 2-3 last night. Szakos stated her “disappointment” with her fellow MPO members for pushing the vote through.
The Free Enterprise Forum is pleased that the western bypass project is moving forward; it has been a long time coming and once built it will serve both thru and local traffic. In addition it will promote economic vitality not only in Charlottesville/Albemarle but throughout the Commonwealth.
The vote, both for and against, required courage and conviction from the MPO members. While we hope that both sides respect the other and put this issue in the rearview mirror, we recognize this will likely be a legal issue and a campaign issue for 2011, 2013 and beyond.
The issues and the politics that go with them are heating up as August approaches. Stay engaged.
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, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org