By. Neil Williamson, President
As the US29 Solutions Advisory Panel prepares for their final meeting on Thursday, May 8th, we have little doubt regarding the actual outcome of the meeting but we are not convinced the impressive group assembled will be allowed to find any real solutions.
The Free Enterprise Forum continues to believe the work of this panel will be revised, spun and recommended to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) however “facilitator” Phillip Shucet [and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne] wants.
There will be no vote, no test for consensus, Shucet will genteelly say here is what I and the technical team have been working on to present to the Secretary and CTB, “What do You-all think about that?”.
The panelists, each in turn, will say nice things about the process and followed by a critique of several individual elements in the plan.
Different panelists will have different concerns and all will be dutifully recorded. The facilitator will nod and make everyone feel as though their individual comments have been exceedingly helpful and, after checking his watch, thank the panel for all their hard work and dedication to the process and to the Commonwealth.
This is not an indictment on the members of the panel who, especially in the latest meeting, have been rather clear in their concerns. Interestingly, both internal to the meeting and in the media Shucet has suggested he has heard the panel’s concerns but they (and by extension the community) need to keep an open mind.
Rather than argue the merits of the proposed expressway with 22’ “Depressed Express Lanes” that will not have community (or MPO) support or the “do-ables” that will not have support from down state, I believe the Panel members should push for and alternative plan that is proactive rather than reactive.
Perhaps we can find one positive outcome from this public process charade.
Or as President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying “There has to be a pony in here someplace”.
One of the desired outcomes from the panel is a community supported solution that helps solve the mobility and congestion in the region.
What about a new road? Not a bypass; Not a parallel road; a brand spanking, smell the asphalt, new road.
For the sake of argument we will call it Virginia Route 229.
Such a four lane road could start at, or near, the Rapidan River (Madison/Greene County line) and continue to a point at least 10 miles south of the designated Development Area in Albemarle County. Access to this road would be limited but not eliminated. There is no alignment presupposed but certainly one should be studied. It would be a shame to see this panel disband without even considering putting some money aside to look at a real solution to the bottleneck that is Charlottesville.
The model for such a road already exists outside of Richmond — Route 288. Located one exit before Short Pump, drivers seeking to head south on I-95 have the option to take 288 South to Petersburg rather than dealing with I-295 or I-64.
To be clear this type of concept would be forward thinking. Any real action on this project would be under, to use Secretary Layne’s verbiage “some future Governor”.
The only question is if the constraints placed on the Route 29 Solutions Advisory Panel will allow it to think that a new road long in the future might actually increase capacity and be part of the answer.
Alternatively, the panel could be forced to think only in political 3.5 year increments of progress and ignore real solutions.
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