By Neil Williamson, President
To even the most casual observers, it is becoming evident that the US29 Expressway Domino Strategy is working. By virtue of photoshop engineering, Route 29 Advisory Panel Facilitator/Puppet master Phillip Shucet has convinced many that not only can US29 interchanges be built but it will be “no big deal” to do so.
The concept is to start with Domino #1 – a grade separated interchange on US29 (at Rio) and then patiently move south and north with at least five more economically disruptive grade separated interchanges and significant left turn restrictions (AKA Access Management) until the full US29 Expressway from Hollymead to 250 is achieved.
For those that don’t remember how the access management plan works it can be expressed arithmetically as 3 right turns = 1 left. The concept that was trumpeted in Places29 advocated such solutions and much more.
Interestingly, a recent Charlottesville Tomorrow unscientific poll found 2/3rds (67%) of those responding had an unfavorable position regarding the proposed Rio interchange.
As Albemarle County prepares to hear more from the public on May 27th regarding the First US29 Domino (Rio Road) the City of Charlottesville, (with Mayor Huja absent on a previously scheduled trip), seems to have indicated a willingness to accept $10 million dollars for Preliminary Engineering of the Domino #2 (a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic/US29) that they have opposed since 1995.
To understand the opposition, one might want to review the 1995 resolution passed by the Planning Commission and compare their concerns then with the concept presented directly above.
this proposal of the Hydraulic Road Grade Separated Interchange not be further pursued at this time by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), since it is not in the best interest of the community for the following reasons:
1. It does not significantly deal with identified traffic problems. It devotes much most of the right of way and improvements to thru-traffic problems and it does not adequately deal with the local traffic needs of the community . . .
2. It will have significant adverse economic impact on adjacent businesses and properties in terms of; limiting access to these properties and due to additional right-of-way acquisitions at this intersection. [sic] It will require U-turn movements at intersection to get to businesses on the other side of the intersection.
3. It will have significant adverse impact on the quality of the environment of the City; because of the nature of proposed development, which includes 25 feet depressed 29 North lanes with retaining walls. the nature of the proposed interchange design is not harmonious to the character of the community. [Emphasis added- nw]
4. It will have significant adverse impact on the utilities as they will have to be relocated and would cost a significant amount for such actions.
5. It would have an adverse impact due to noise and air pollution.
6. It would have an adverse impact on the response time on utility vehicles in adjacent neighborhoods and businesses especially as it relates to public safety and emergency vehicles.
7. It will result in the elimination of a large amount of improvements currently being made to the intersection and on 29 North.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Planning Commission asks the City Council to ask the Virginia Department of Transportation not to build this interchange at this time….. Unanimously approved by The Charlottesville Planning Commission January 12, 1995
No one believes that the interchange at Rio is the end, it is like putting in a 4 inch pipe on a 2 inch line, while the water will move freely on the larger connector it really does little good for the overall velocity of the water until you expand the whole line.
It is strategically important to recognize the proposed Shucet Solution is being offered as an all or nothing opportunity with a time deadline. He (and the McAuliffe Administration) knows that is if Domino #1 falls and Domino #2 starts to tilt – the eventual expressway will be well on its way to completion.
Once these first two dominos fall, we will start to see the calls for access management and more “grade separated intersections”. The “depressed express lanes” will start at the Wal-Mart at Hilton Heights Road and will logically terminate with a set of flyover exit ramps to 250.Currently the State has found the proper leverage points to “facilitate” a solution on the Charlottesville area. The timing, strategy and tactics they have used have been nothing short of amazing. They held an advisory panel of opinion leaders without a single vote or test for consensus, they truncated the timing of the process to elude the July 1 deadline of HB #2 that requires project prioritization and they are poised to get Charlottesville to give up almost two decades of opposition to the highly disruptive Hydraulic/US29 Interchange.
Chess Master Bobby Fisher once said, “Tactics flow from a superior position”. Even when it is not in the best interest of the community, one must recognize the excellent gamesmanship exhibited by both Shucet and Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.
Well played, gentlemen, well played indeed.
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