By. Neil Williamson, President
“It seems how lately, baby
Got a bad case steamroller blues” – James Taylor
As we all are getting accustomed to yellow and orange vests in the impacted areas of US29, the Free Enterprise Forum has learned we will have significantly less control over the US29 projects than we were led to believe at the outset.
Later this week the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will rubber stamp the Shucet US29 Solution Package. Interestingly, only now have we learned (via Twitter) the sequencing of these long desired projects is seemingly out of our control.
That’s right despite calm (and exceedingly carefully worded) reassurances during the misnamed US29 Advisory Board meetings that sequencing will be an important part of the implementation strategies. We learned in a Twitter exchange (below) not only will the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) not control the sequencing of project – the contract will incentivize Rio first.
“Projects will be reasonably sequenced. But the order can’t be presumed.” – Philip Shucet July 17 via Twitter
I then “tweeted back”pressed for more information asking “who would dictate the order VDOT or the winner of the Design Build competition?”
“Contractor will propose sequence. But incentive will be to finish Rio early.” – Philip Shucet July 17 via Twitter
Shucet continues to amaze at his deft and transparent efforts to move the projects and the conversation forward. By placing the decision of sequencing to the contractor he eliminates VDOT responsibility for the decision. By placing a financial incentive on early Rio completion, he clearly stacks the deck in favor of the fast track for that project.
What of the critically important (and funded) parallel road network that might alleviate some of the construction impacts? It will now be at the contractor’s discretion and financial detriment to place those projects ahead of the construction at Rio Road.
In February 2008, the Free Enterprise Forum commissioned a study of the Rio interchange concept by Jack Hodge of Volkert Engineering. Hodge, with over thirty nine years of experience as a VDOT engineer, including 11 years as the Chief Engineer, found significant technical concerns, including issues with the ability for the project to maintain a free-flow of traffic on US 29 during construction of the interchange.
The maintenance of traffic will be a major concern during construction causing delays to the motorist and interruption of access to businesses located in the vicinity. The Places 29 study assumes, in addition to the US 29 proposed improvements, significant local street improvements parallel to US 29 on both the east and west sides of US 29. For traffic to have any hope of reaching its destination in a reasonable travel time, these improvements will have to be in place prior to the construction of the interchanges. [Emphasis added –NW]
In their first meeting, the newly assembled US 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel identified four success measures for their work:
1. Maintain 80%-85% of current traffic on local roads through Rio-29 intersection
2. Maintain the county’s current tax revenue market share from the 29 corridor
3. Maintain all current traffic lanes and access points during construction
4. Develop adequate risk management practices to anticipate and avoid consequences
How, and when, we continue learn critical parts of the US 29 Solutions implementation reminds me of professional gambler Amarillo “Slim” Preston who famously said “If you’re at a poker table and you don’t see a sucker, it’s you.”
Neil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. www.freeenterpriseforum.org