US29 Panel Design Closes the Drapes on Sunlight


By. Neil Williamson, President

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis

The need for speed at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will result in either underrepresentation of local governments or an opaque process that prevents a full public discussion of transportation options under consideration.


“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”


Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne has instructed former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Phillip Shucet to facilitate a short term advisory panel to determine options for solving the US29 problem. 

According the the VDOT website:

The 10-member panel …will include officials from Albemarle County, the cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville, the towns of Culpeper and Warrenton, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Charlottesville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The group will meet three times in 36 days (the first meeting is tomorrow, 3/27) prior to May 5th and their recommendation will go to the CTB at their May 14th meeting.

Here’s the rub – While representatives from local governments are on the panel, how can they effectively determine the opinion of their elected bodies in such a short time? Most have only one meeting scheduled during these 36 days.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees four possible options for the representatives of government agencies:

  1. John Wayne – Have the representative speak their personal opinion and expect they can bring their council/board along
  2. Closed Door – Have representatives contact their council/board members privately one by one and determine their position on the the options presented
  3. Open Door – Hold special meeting of each of the council/board to publicly discuss the options the panel is considering
  4. Status Quo – Have the representative speak only to the public positions the elected body have already publicly debated and voted on.

If the groups determine to use the status quo there is no purpose for the meetings.  It is highly unlikely the elected bodies will choose to have several special meetings in the midst of the budget cycle to discuss the transportation options presented to this panel. 

Therefore, we fully anticipate the elected officials to use a combination of the John Wayne and Closed Door option to move their individual agendas forward.

While we have already heard the options considered will not include a bypass option, the speed and methodology of this process leads me to believe the Administration has predetermined the solution and is using this fast track to provide the appearance of public buy in. 

This reality coupled with the panel’s desire to eliminate spoken public comment (such comments may only be entered on their website leads us to believe the process is not seeking citizen input but instead is sprinting to the predetermined CTB deadline. 

Despite VDOT’s best efforts to appear to promote panel transparency – including live streaming the meetings via – the timing and construct of the panel actually obscures public view of their elected officials’ deliberations.

Without appropriate sunlight, citizens will never know what goes on behind the curtain. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson 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

Photo Credit: MGM Studios


One response

  1. Hmmm… well, Mr. Williamson, does that sound a lot like the pot calling the kettle black? The entire two plus year process we have gone through — that you appear to have been OK with — turned on a single “midnight vote”, was contrary to a great deal of public opinion (if not a majority, if one interprets the results of your own Mason-Dixon study properly), and had the nicety of “public comment” in front of the MPO when a 3-2 vote was pre-determined and opposing views ignored. Moreover, the champion of this coup, Supervisor Ken Boyd, is renown for his disdain for organized public comment contrary to his own opinion.

    A short time to discuss options is better than none at all. Let’s be honest: you don’t like the format because the participants aren’t packed (or owned) by “business interests”, whom you are paid to lobby for. It rattles your cage that an ordinary, informed and involved citizen, might have almost as much impact as say a Carter Myers, or a Phil Wendel — I say almost, recognizing how many of the seats on this panel are still aligned with narrow self interests.

    The “long” process lasted nearly 30 years, during which the opposition to the now defunct “bypass” was staunch, and by any objective measure, massive. One can only guess that such opposition — even when loosely organized — caused you and others angst. That it could not be reduced or marginalized just to a handful of wealthy individuals, or extreme environmentalists — not that you folks didn’t try (unsuccessfully) to sell that narrative (at least locally in Albemarle County) — must really irk you.

    My understanding is that this panel is to arrive at a conceptual plan (not final design) that encompasses several pieces that may fit into a budget of $200 million, and can be implemented in the near term. There is plenty of time to weigh in on the details as they emerge. At least, maybe we can expect them (this time). The stealth “design build” contract with SKANSA never gave us the “luxury” of actually knowing the final design and cost of the scrapped project. What we do know is that someone led us down a rabbit hole wasting resources and time on a project that couldn’t get necessary permits and approvals before a shovel turned the Earth.

    Wasn’t that the game plan, too? That at least some part of VDOT conspired to, under Connaughton’s “leadership”, while another part seemed to be working to sabotage it? To railroad it through until the ill-conceived plan was to far along to pull the plug (again)?

    The history of this area is replete with building ahead of needed infrastructure. Also with the pure fiction that adding low-wage jobs in retail allows the County to “grow” itself to financial health. This is just a modern version of the plantation legacy — a few genteel enjoying the first fruits, provided by a large toiling class. There is nothing inherently ugly or wrong with wealth — but there is everything wrong with that equating directly to power and representation.

    I, for one, remain hopeful (though also wary) that some sort of rational regional transportation planning emerges from the ashes of a road project (thankfully) never meant to be. The debate was focused (unnecessarily) on a no-bypass “bypass” and a non-expressway “expressway” of two overpasses, when countless other possibilities could be considered that would do the job. One almost has to wonder what kind of highway engineers VDOT employs, and whether we can option them out to a third world nation. But surely it is sheer nonsense to expect a reasonable or efficient result spring forth from even the best intentioned politician, or the business community at-large. They should be driving the needs/requirements, with regard to cost, NOT design particulars laden with elements that strike and emotional, non-analytical chord. I give you Exhibit A: the recent hoopla over restricting left turns. (Oddly, by the same representatives of a municipality that already imposes the same restrictions on Emmet Street immediately to the South. It can (and in my view, should) be done — expertly and thoughtfully to reduce congestion at the cost of a U-turn here and there.

    Of course the panel could fail. Maybe that is what some are cheering for.

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