Playing Dominos on The US 29 Expressway

By Neil Williamson, President

dominoesTo 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.


Photoshop Engineering US29 Expressway Domino #1 Rio Road Grade Separated Intersection

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.


Photoshop Engineering US29 Expressway Domino #2 Hydraulic Road Grade Separated Intersection

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.

VDOT's last attempt at US29/250 interchange

VDOT’s last attempt of photoshop engineering at US29/250 interchange [since abandoned]

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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson 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


6 responses

  1. You cannot possibly be surprised. This is what happens when you waste 30 years. Outsiders will make the decision for us.

  2. The absurdity of this plan is breathtaking. But then again… it’s Charlottesville, so no one should be surprised. They better get started building the new shopping area on the South side of town, because Rt. 29 will be dead, dead, dead the day construction of this monstrosity begins.

  3. The outdated design for a Hydraulic overpass that the City refused to endorse back in the 1990s is likely a far cry from what would be developed today, two decades later. It seems terribly close-minded to suggest we shouldn’t evaluate new designs because twenty years ago the City had concerns with the design that was drawn up at that time.

    Let’s face it, the Hydraulic intersection is desperately in need of major improvement, and it would still require an overhaul even if a bypass is someday built. Thank goodness we now have leaders at the local and state level who refuse to stick their heads in the sand on this, and who instead want to determine how this intersection can best be improved.

  4. I doubt this plan will happen either. Its just another plan to prevent any action by moving the pieces around.

    Since they don’t want a bypass to separate local from through traffic, just add a couple of new lanes to Rt 29 and the on-ramps for 250.

    Albermarle created this mess by letting Rt 29 build up so much without any thought to reducing curb-cuts.

  5. Dumb engineering question: How (and where) do these extended recessed roadways drain in cases of extreme downpours? Considering that the lowest grade road surfaces, directly below the crossover roads (Hydraulic, Rio) are 25 feet below ground elevation, where is the necessary “fall” coming from to drain properly? I can easily imagine these expressway areas becoming flooded and impassible during summer thunderstorms. And picture, if you will, how pretty things will become during winter snow/ice removal.

  6. […] in May of 2014, we wrote about Playing Dominos with a the series of interchanges resulting in the US 29 Expressway.  We have many of the same […]

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