FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Prior to determining what transportation solution to implement on US29, the community, state and federal government must determine exactly what problem they are trying to solve. Unfortunately,the Free Enterprise Forum continues to see a vocal minority expressing a self centered circular argument that precludes productive dialog.
Please let me explain.
The February 18th letter from The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) changed the conversation paradigm from the approved and funded bypass versus anything else to everything is now on the table.
But the question remains, what is the problem the project is seeking to solve?
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Throughout the 5 hour public hearing at the Albemarle Board of Supervisors last month, speakers mentioned that the bypass is a misnomer and needs to be significantly longer. The Free Enterprise Forum wrote about this concept in September US29 Bypass Extension is too short and too long.
The question raised by the FHWA letter is one of “purpose and need”. The feds believe this road was properly designed for a time that has passed. The letter also suggests that VDOT should get significant buy in from the community to any solution proposed.
To gain community consensus, the Free Enterprise Forum believes an objective set of metrics needs to be developed to evaluate ANY proposed solution. The metrics discussion should happen now absent any concrete (pun intended) concept. Some of the metrics I have heard discussed include:
- Cost/Return on Investment
- Throughput Improvement (Corridor Travel time)
- Congestion Improvement (how many hours at level of service E or worse)
- Preservation/Destruction of Rural Area
- Water Quality
- Economic Dislocation
- Freight Capacity
- Distance to Schools
Seemingly, there are some in the community that have little to no concern about the import of this National Highway and Federal Aid Route as it relates to the rest of the Commonwealth. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs article in Sunday’s Daily Progress included two direct quotes that clearly voiced this sentiment:
“I don’t think … I’m sitting here to worry about people from Lynchburg getting to Washington, D.C.,” said Places29 council member Cynthia Neff. “I’m worried about the growth area of the Albemarle community and how we move traffic through most effectively.”
“It’s obvious Virginia needs a third north-south interstate, but it ain’t U.S. 29,” Places29 Council Member and President of Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition George] Larie said. “There are too many driveways.”
The Free Enterprise Forum has also learned that one person at the meeting heard a Places29 Council member member suggest under their breath “[explicative deleted] Lynchburg”.
It is interesting those generally described as Bypass Opponents, including Neff and Laurie, have little difficulty with the concept of accepting Federal funds (from all of the US) for transportation improvements as long as they are programmed for their myopic local improvements. This “Albemarle Arrogance” suggests a lack of understanding of the word “Commonwealth” and undercuts the goals of VDOT.
Despite calls for the immediate sale of Western Bypass Right of Way, Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) February meeting discussion of selling the right of way is premature because it would rule out a possible solution.
Interestingly, in the February meeting two CTB members indicated a willingness to accept the funds that had been dedicated for Charlottesville and reprogramming them to projects in their districts. Again, Layne suggested such reprogramming of funds would be premature (but not out of the question).
Unfortunately, I believe Lewis Carroll correctly projected Albemarle County’s current transportation planning philosophy in Through the Looking Glass.
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
We eagerly await the March 19th CTB meeting where VDOT has been charged to present a laundry list of projects designed to address the concerns raised in the FHWA letter. Whether any such projects might garner the required local support is an open question. If not, there are plenty of other communities in the Commonwealth who are lining up for these Federal dollars.
If the funds are reprogrammed outside of Albemarle, no significant transportation improvements will likely be completed in the near term “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”.
Maybe that was the opposition’s goal after all.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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
Photo Credits: Pixabay, Walt Disney Company