US29 Bypass – Building a Roadblock is Easier Than Building a Road

By. Neil Williamson, President

VDOT-logo_thumb.jpgOn Thursday, May 23rd, from 5 pm – 7 pm at the University Area Holiday Inn,  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be holding an open house style meeting to discuss alternative designs to the southern terminus of the US 29 Western Bypass.  But the question is will “the public” focus on the meeting topic or use this meeting as a platform for opposition to this much needed safety improvement to US29?

Based on the e-mbypass-survey-results-graphic-2012.jpgail and Facebook traffic I have seen this week, I fully anticipate the “roadblock builders” to be out in great numbers at this meeting.  Does this mean the public is opposed to the road? 

No, in fact our 2004 transportation survey, Charlottesville Tomorrow 2012 survey [graphic] (and others) as well as the 2011 Rivanna District Supervisor election all seem to indicate the pubic is in favor of the road.

However, when a cohort of any population, regardless of size, is in opposition to a project that cohort is generally more energized than the cohort that is in support of an already approved project.  Therefore, I anticipate the “road blockers” to dominate the attendance at Thursday’s citizen informational meeting.

While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds this vocal minority for remaining engaged, we question the structural integrity of their current six part “GO29” argument.

Please let me explain. 

On their website, The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) advocates for several steps to relieve the congestion on US29 other than the bypass. 

The first step in building an effective roadblock is to redefine the argument.  If you can include portions of the opposition’s solution in your solution, you will have them chasing their rhetorical tail.

By branding this as “GO29”, the SELC seems to think the public will not recognize that many parts of “their” solution are already in process at the direction of those supporting the bypass {and were included in Places29].

From the SELC website:

We can’t bypass our problems. Our community has developed an approach that addresses traffic backups directly, and also gives drivers more ways to reach destinations. Our Go29 video highlights six key pieces of the solution:       

    1. Improve the interchange with the 250 Bypass near Best Buy;  
    2. Build a compact overpass at Hydraulic Road to eliminate a major source of congestion and allow through-traffic on 29 to flow without stopping;
    3. Extend Hillsdale Drive parallel to 29 to give local drivers ways to reach destinations without having to use 29;
    4. Build a second compact overpass at Rio to solve this traffic snarl (same concept as Hydraulic);
    5. Extend Berkmar Drive up to Hollymead Town Center and beyond, so that drivers could go from Kmart to Lowe’s to Target without getting on 29; and
    6. Eliminate the bottleneck between the Rivanna River and Hollymead by widenin100_0404_thumb.jpgg 29 in both directions.

Wait a minute, four of these items are not issues.  There is community consensus (and in some cases studies completed and even funding) for:

  1. The Best Buy Ramp
  2. Hillsdale Drive Extended
  3. Berkmar Drive Extended
  4. The widening of US29 North of the Rivanna River

By suggesting these other items won’t be built, SELC is knowingly constructing a multi faceted false choice argument designed to obfuscate the simple question Expressway or Bypass?  

Should vehicles without business in the North US29 corridor be forced to go through the corridor or should they be given the option to bypass it?

But none of this is the topic of Thursday’s meeting.

According to VDOT:

The purpose of this Citizen Information Meeting is to provide an opportunity for interested citizens and organizations to review preliminary alternatives for the proposed interchange at the southern terminus of the project. . . The project will include construction of a new interchange at the southern terminus of the project that will replace the existing U.S. 250 Bypass interchange at Leonard Sandridge Road. VDOT is considering three alternative configurations for this proposed interchange. Displays showing each alternative under consideration are being presented at this meeting for public review and comment.

So the question remains, will Thursday’s meeting be about the alternatives to the southern terminus of UAlice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleS29 Bypass or a trip down the roadblock builder’s rhetorical rabbit hole?

Will the vocal minority succeed in redefining the meeting agenda to include settled issues or will VDOT be able to maintain the focus on the three proposed southern terminus options?

Clearly in Albemarle County, and many communities, building a roadblock is much easier than building a road.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson,President

 

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville.  www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Free Enterprise Forum, Disney

Graphic Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

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