By. Neil Williamson, President
There are some in the community that have indicated the Rio/US29 Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) is a “done deal”. There are also many in the community that are now just learning of the project and have raised significant concerns with this specific element of the Route 29 Solutions Package.
In Wednesday’s (2/4) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors marathon meeting, Chair Jane Dittmar suggested that the Board can’t say no to the Rio GSI and yet get the other projects funded. Supervisor Diantha McKeel echoed that sentiment stating that she’d be very concerned if county “jeopardizes” $230 million in Solutions29 package by rejecting GSI.
Dittmar and McKeel are correct that Richmond has bullied this package forward and are presenting it as an entire package or nothing but the reality is a bit more nuanced.
In yesterday’s (2/5) Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel Meeting (PDAP), facilitator Philip Shucet, somewhat reluctantly, indicated that each project in the Route 29 Solutions package is a separate line item in VDOT’s Six Year Improvement Plan.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) could eliminate the project line item in their six year plan. Shucet also indicated his belief that this action was highly unlikely.
Shucet went further to state that the projects were recommended and funded as a package because they work together to fix traffic on US29.
Several panel members raised concerns with the sequencing of the projects not following the language in Albemarle’s Master Plan for the area known as Places29. Shucet indicated that the Route 29 Solutions were not born out of Places29 or beholden to the sequencing in that document. These solutions were developed with input from the first advisory panel (created after the Governor chose not to alter the Western Bypass path/design after the Federal Highway Administration questioned the scope of that project).
The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the local direction on this transportation matter has been ceded to Richmond. Governor McAuliffe and his Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne are utilizing schoolyard bullying tactics offering to fund valuable transportation projects the entire community supports only with a grade separated interchange that clearly divides the community. Absent the Rio GSI, the administration has said “I’m going to take my ball and go home”.
The reality is that while the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has selected the successful bidder for all of the Route 29 solutions projects (including the Rio/US29 GSI), the bid will not be awarded until the CTB takes official action on February 18th.
Will the CTB ask the difficult questions regarding traffic counts, alternative proposals and lack of community support for the Rio GSI or continue to rubber stamp the Solutions 29 Steamroller?
Not surprisingly, the outcome of this important local transportation issue will be determined by the CTB in Richmond on February 18th.
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
Photo Credit: VDOT
*Feb 6 1:13 pm Correction made “Shucet indicated that the Route 29 Solutions were not born out of Places29” the word “not” added to properly convey meaning – H/T to Philip Shucet for correction.