Big Transportation Thinking on US 29 – Over, Under, or Around?


By. Neil Williamson, President

100_1004What will US 29 look like in Albemarle and Charlottesville in 2070?

Will technological advances such as driverless cars that park themselves increase roadway and storage capacity?100_1003

Will the built environment drive the market or will the market drive the built environment?

Will light rail be part of the transportation solution?

The answer is both yes and no to all of the above – please let me explain

This past week, the Free Enterprise Forum was honored to participate in The University of Virginia’s Architecture School 2014 VORTEX focused on reimagining US 29.  We along with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Southern Environmental Law Center and City Councilor (and architect) Kathy Galvin took part in a kick off panel discussion moderated by Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow.



While the results of the VORTEX were fantastic (see drones delivering groceries) the concepts were pure and devoid of any fiscal, or in many cases technological, restraint.

Each of the 27 segments presented spent time defining the problem.  Most highlighted the challenge US 29 faces serving as a local road and a major transportation corridor.

100_0987As is rather typical for these university  events, there was the expected anti-automobile undertone with about half of the solutions relying on light rail to accommodate people moving [ironically, the parking lot outside the hosting Carver Recreation Center was as full as I have ever seen it].


Many of the presentations focused on the concept of the death of big box.  One presenter suggested “Route 29 would be reduced to 2 lanes with nature trails winding along the side with views of the ruined big box store husks”.  Others indicated significant societal changes would occur that would accelerate the demise of the sprawl.

While I was impressed a number of segments addressed the need for freight transport along the corridor and recognized the topographical challenges, none of the segments designed significantly considered the property rights issues that will be obstacles to implementation.

100_0990It is important to remember the students were seeking approval and recognition of their hard work from the faculty.  We believe some of the statement included in their presentations such as “Corridor of Consumption” and “Landfill to Landform” were designed to pique the interest of the visiting professors.  It is less than surprising when one competitor suggested making US29 “to the scale of the University”.

Interestingly just as the VORTEX teams were finalizing their projects, The University of Virginia Center for Survey Research released the results of their annual Jefferson Area Survey which indicated:

A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass

Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.

Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent). [Emphasis Added-NW]

The results of this survey closely mirror the 2004 Mason-Dixon conducted survey commissioned by the Free Enterprise Forum.

The US29 problem is well understood by the students, who walked the five miles of US29 from the University to the Rivanna River, as well as the residents in the survey.  There is a need to reduce the traffic volume on US29. 

Blade RUnnerWhile some students believe creating a “Blade Runner” like tunnel or delivering all our shopping needs via drone is the solution others suggest forcing increases in  population density will create a more efficient development pattern and reduce society’s automobile dependency.

The Free Enterprise Forum is excited to see the students push the US 29 envelope but we continue to believe that the expeditious construction of the Western Bypass will result in a context sensitive ‘Business 29’ that meets the citizen expectations, enhance economic development  AND the goals set out in the UVA VORTEX.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website

Photo Credits: Free Enterprise Forum, Warner Brothers Studio


One response

  1. H. Watkins Ellerson | Reply

    A “western” bypass for Rte. 29 near Charlottesville is a pie-eyed absurdity, especially given (1) the cost of acquiring very expensive road routes west of Charlottesville, (2) the likely terminus just a few miles north near the airport, and (3) if based upon the notion that Rte. 29 is a throughway, which it is decidedly not.

    The problems presented by the ever-increasing traffic on Rte. 29/Emmet Street are almost purely local in origin: build it and they will come! Widen Rte. 29 to 10-12 lanes, and it will STILL fill up with local traffic quicker than a shot glass!

    Unless and until people can be safely, conveniently and reliably moved by some means OTHER THAN the automobile, the roads in Charlottesville will remain choked with local/regional traffic! Charlottesville’s traffic problem (including the entire metro area in Albemarle Co., too) is created primarily by its reliance on outdated notions of feeder-artery traffic flow instead of using the “grid” concept and ensuring thereby more than one north-south route (Rte. 29) and one east-west route (Rte. 250) through Charlottesville! Until that problem is accurately addressed, no amount of highway-building is going to fix what is so annoying!

    A limited-access EASTERN bypass beginning below Charlottesville and dumping onto Rte. 29 north of Culpeper, with only entrance ramps and no exits, MIGHT alleviate some of the problem, but Rte. 29 is NOT a throughway–it is mostly a local/regional commuter/shopper road with a slew of traffic lights that dead-ends in Washington, DC.

    The proposed western bypass will become just another traffic-choked local/regional road, same as all the others. And, be sure to wake me when the big-box stores disappear!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: