Misinformation, Compartmentalization and Realization on the US29 “Expressway”

By. Neil Williamson, President

Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of accusations of truths, half truths, and outright distortions of truth regarding the US29 Solutions Package and the overall plan for US29.

The Free Enterprise Forum shares the frustration of others in the community including the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) regarding misinformation.

Facts, modeling and statistics, even when used in rhetorical analysis, should be both sourced and transparent so the reader can determine the validity of the argument.   As an organization we will continue to strive for such transparency in our work.

On Twitter earlier this month Former VDOT Commissioner and current Route 29 Solutions facilitator Philip Shucet wrote about the concern of a US29 Expressway:

Philip Shucet @PhilipShucet ·  Nov 5

Fact: There is no Rt. 29 Expressway in the making. No secret plans. No hidden agenda. Just some smart #rt29solutions at work.

0 replies 2 retweets 2 favorites

On Twitter, I queried Shucet about the $10,000,000 dedicated to preliminary engineering on the Hydraulic interchange; clearly this was an indication of the Commonwealth’s interest in building it.  His reply:

@NeilSWilliamson Good point. No preset intention either way. If study results are to go forward, then must go to MPO, HB2 priority process.

Shucet is a stand up guy who works hard to to keep his direct charge, the so called Route 29 Solutions, on track.

The Route 29 Solutions webpage [a great resource for up to date project details] lists each of the specific projects under this umbrella:

Route 29 Solutions Projects:

29/250 Ramp
Rt. 29 Widening
Berkmar Extension
Adaptive Signals
Hillsdale Extended
Hydraulic/29 Study
Hillsdale South

By compartmentalizing his work to the list above, Shucet can accurately say that “There is no Rt. 29 Expressway in the making.  No secret plans”.  However if one digs further into the approved planning documents a different picture, or pictures, emerge.

In August, when Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne spoke to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding the US29 Solutions, he said, “Again, I want to emphasize these (projects) are not the end of the solutions; but they are a good start.  I believe in an incremental approach”Click here for the podcast [quote is at 18:24].

Back during the Western bypass discussion, Piedmont Environmental Council Field Officer Jeff Werner produced a slide show of sketches to show the problem on  US 29.

jeff's sketch 1

The solutions proposed in his sketch slide show included most of the Route 29 solutions package as well as a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic:

jeff sketch hydraulic interchange

Not to be left out of the discussion, our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) joined with PEC in producing a video rendering of the proposed solutions including how an interchange at Hydraulic would work:

SELC vision for Hydraulic

These ideas did not come out of thin air — All of this is actually part of the Places29 master plan for the region.

The Places29 Plan calls for 8 “Major Intersection Improvements” within the US 29 Corridor.  These improvements will be designed by those in power when funds are available but based on all of the above, we see a tendency to move toward grade separated interchanges.

The Free Enterprise Forum was critical of this plan throughout the development and spoke out in vocal opposition to the plan when it was presented for final approval.  The plan was approved unanimously.

I am not sure what most people mean when they use the term expressway.  I tend to think of a limited access road with few if any lights or other potential vehicular conflicts.

In looking at the picture below from the Places29 plan [figure 14.18], and the one above from SELC, I wonder what most readers would call these roads?


Former Secretary Shucet is right there is no secret expressway planned for US29 and his Route29 Solutions work, while a part of the overall plan, is not gong to build the “expressway” immediately.

Whether you call the new transportation network an expressway, a boulevard or “Fred”, what is planned is not a secret at all — it is all a part of the Places29 Master Plan and it always has been.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President



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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits:

Piedmont Environmental Council www.pecva.org accessed 11/10/2014

Southern Environmental Law Center www.selc.org accessed 11/10/2014

Albemarle County Places29 Master Plan


3 responses

  1. “In looking at the picture below from Places29 plan [figure 14.18] and the one above from SELC, I wonder what most readers would call these roads?”

    Service Roads.

    Thus advances the (less than totally above table) steamrolling of “Places29.” This and the properties in the denied dead bypass path; being offered back to rightful owners for a song or sold for current market value, which should REMAIN IN STASIS AND NOTHING DONE WITH until what’s under road construction (Shucet blueprint) is done.

    This does not make for all happy campers but no single plan would ever seem to. At the least for the faction of public that didn’t want this, maybe the resulting interchange could be officially named for somebody or organization so bad and so hot for this VDOT project. Let the appropriate bypass killers own their legacy to the rest of us.

  2. If the Route 29 Solutions projects play out as currently planned, they provide a step forward. Obviously the community is divided, and has been, all over the place on the scope, nature, and location of improvements to this vital transportation corridor. And in the lengthy conversation, ongoing since I arrived here in 1980, we’ve — collectively as a community — there has been lots of misinformation. Some of which, in my opinion, has been disseminated right here (Neil’s protest acknowledged in advance).

    One would like to say that “facts is facts” (I know, grammatically incorrect, likely to be attributed to my being an engineer by training, but truly a reflection on my Chicago upbringing). But I think most adults know — just as there are “white lies” — there are what I would call “grey facts”. In no way would a transportation professional reach the “expressway” conclusion touted by the loyal opposition to “solutions”, even IF Mr. Werner’s sketches, or Places 29, come to fruition. Let me reiterate: NFW.

    Now here are some decidedly non-facts: one, Route 29 Solutions is NOT “Schucet’s plan”. He may have been a hired gun, as facilitator, but his charge, initially, was to put together a package of alternatives in lieu of the failed “implementation” (using that term loosely) of the so-called “bypass” (again, using that term loosely). He’s been roundly criticized, mostly here and almost exclusively in the special-interest-focused NCNC, for taking what I would characterize as a no-nonsense, above-board, hard-line, singularly focused approach. As I recall, few, if any, on that initial Advisory Panel — emphasis on “advisory” — came away ecstatic with the outcome. But it did result in A plan. No one gets to hang that on Schucet as HIS plan. He did not establish the constraints, nor pre-determine the outcome. Did he have influence? Of course. We’d be at the discussion and wrangling stage a full 20-30 years hence if not. By far, he is the most experienced, and successful, professional in that group.

    Let this sink in: It is “our” plan. It is happening here largely in Albemarle County. It is serving as a primary transportation route locally and regionally, therefore of vital interest to upstream and downstream communities for obvious reasons. It is administered by the Commonwealth and had to be endorsed by the CTB to be funded. Some 50,000 vehicles pass through the Rio/29 intersection, and the 29/Hydraulic intersection, daily. By economic and political and, like it or not, environmental necessity, it is the logical, viable alternative to a project that scored an “F” on all three.

    Here’s another: “steamrolling”. I suppose I can say something totally catty like “NOW you know what the Midnight Vote” felt like. Or, I could evoke the memory of one Carter Myers engaging in practices cited by JLARC as a direct, unambiguous conflict of interest while steering, without public comment or input, the undoing of the Three Party Agreement. But just like that other catchphrase “NIMBY”, I am reminded of Paul Simon’s popular song that goes “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”.

    Now to naming: I vote for signs on either end of the GSI demarcating the boundaries of the Nation’s Shortest Expressway that read the “Ken Boyd Memorial Underpass”. Let’s give credit, where credit is due.

    1. By the way, Places 29? That IS our plan. As I recall unanimously endorsed by our ELECTED officials. Whether opposed by a paid lobbyist who resides outside the County is relevant or not, I’ll let your readers decide. But I can think of no worse “ambassador” of Albemarle’s business community than one who harangues constantly and consistently that this is a lousy place for business. That may be “free speech”, but it clearly has a destructive and malicious undertone that scarcely lifts up the cause of free enterprise.

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