SOMEONE’s Shameful Sensationalism

By. Neil Williamson, President

Over the last dozen years, I have read literally hundreds of Albemarle County staff reports.  I tend to find the reports to be professional, concise, factually correct and devoid of generalizations or editorial commentary – until last week when I determined that SOMEONE  improperly and sensationally  used a tragedy to further an advocacy position in what was presented as an impartial staff analysis.

In an attempt to sensationalize the need for closing of Earlysville Road to truck traffic, SOMEONE has stooped so low as to cite a terrible teenage 2002 drunk driving accident as justification to overrule the technical analysis of professional traffic engineers.

Please let me try to explain.

For many years, residents on Earlysville Road have complained about traffic and road safety conditions.

A traffic analysis of Earlysville Road was completed July 7, 2015 (and revised July 30 2015 and December 29, 2015) by Bill Wuensch, P.E. PTOE of EPRPC.  The fact that the report was revised twice is of interest and perhaps indicative of SOMEONE not being happy with the report. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) crash data in the report indicated there were 60 crashes in the last three years and only one involved a truck.  The crash was a read end incident and the truck involved was a two-axle vehicle [the kind that would not be prohibited by the proposed closure].   

The final report had 3 conclusions:

Overall there seems to be a fairly typical number of multiple axle trucks (i.e. three or more axels) on the Earlysville Road corridor.  The truck percentage does not generally exceed the typical value of 2% that is found across the state on similar facilities.  Note the 2% does not include long wheelbase two axel vehicles, such as delivery trucks including mulch trucks, fedex trucks, etc.

The study corridor has features that do not meet current design standards, though we would look for a correlation with crash data before identifying road design as a major concern relative to truck traffic.

The crash data does not appear to indicate that trucks are causing crashes along the corridor [emphasis added – nw].

SOMEONE did not think the report went far enough so they drafted a “Staff Summary Analysis” Document that has become part of the project’s complete package provided to the Board of Supervisors. 

In what reads more like an angry ‘Letter to the Editor’ rather than a staff analysis:

The report acknowledges that the 3-year crash data included numerous “runoff the road” crashes that were either the result of the lack of shoulders or avoidance maneuvers.  This 3-year old data is only a small sampling of the “run off the road” incidents along this corridor and doesn’t include the July 2002 incident that claimed the life of one teenager and caused incapacitating injury to a second. [emphasis added-nw]

Wow, that sensational tidbit had great meaning – since we are discussing a closure of the road to truck traffic – did a truck cause this accident, as was clearly implied?  I actually stopped reading the report to find out.

No, it was a community tragedy but there was no truck involved.  According to Lisa Provence writing for The Hook:

On July 16, [2002] three Albemarle High School girls attended a couple of parties where alcohol was served, with tragic results. Around 2am, the Honda Civic driven by 17-year-old Kirsten Zamorski flipped over on Earlysville Road near the reservoir. Sixteen-year-old Brittany Bishop, a passenger in the car, died at the scene, and Zamorski spent weeks in the hospital. Police cite drinking as a factor in the accident.

SOMEONE is attempting to tip the scales in their favor by sensationalizing and editorializing a staff report.

Not surprisingly SOMEONE’s   so called “Staff Analysis” conclusions are vastly different than the twice revised professional traffic analysis:

Therefore it’s Staff’s opinion that the substandard road widths, the lack of adequate shoulders and recoverable areas, and the history of “runoff the road” incidents gives credence to the petitioner’s claim that physical characteristics of Earlysville Road creates an incompatible and unsafe environment between truck or truck and trailer or semitrailer combination and the other vehicles using the roadway 

Based on my experience, I do NOT believe Albemarle County Staff wrote the document titled “Staff Summary Analysis”.  SOMEONE else did.  The verbiage, terminology, tenor and cadence of the language is all wrong.  My attempts to determine the true authorship have not yet been fruitful.

Regardless of your position on the Earlysville Road closure to truck traffic, all citizens should be concerned with this clear abuse of power [and professional staff].

SOMEONE should be ashamed.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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, Louisa and  Nelson County.




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