By. Neil Williamson, President
While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.
In the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days, “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”. This might be the understatement of the year.
The closure of the intersection (right turns will still be permitted) will have an impact on businesses in the area. A little over a year ago the Free Enterprise Forum asked a simple question regarding the business assistance program for US29 Rio Grade Separated Interchange: US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?
In short, VDOT and Albemarle have answered the call to make lemonade out of the challenging construction period.
The get around guide produced by VDOT (and printed locally) is quite good and available at local merchants.
Beyond being a helpful tool, these are not being handed out by a team of interns that do not know how to answer business owner questions. VDOT Communications Director Lou Hatter is personally delivering these maps to retailers, hoteliers in the impacted footprint.
VDOT also has print, radio and television advertisements running in significant rotation, letting people know that the intersection will be closed but access to all businesses and neighborhoods will be maintained.
Concurrent, and coordinated with VDOT’s informational efforts, Albemarle County, working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is running radio, television, and print advertisements focused on the businesses in the Rio and 29 footprint. The message that Route 29 is “Open for Business” during construction at Rio Road.
To be clear, The Free Enterprise Forum fought the Rio GSI because it is either the addition of a 2 inch pipe on a 1/2 inch line or it is the first step toward an expressway that will divide the community. We lost that fight.
VDOT is taking a “tear the band aid off” approach to the construction plans for Rio GSI getting as much done as quickly as possible. The contractor’s current trajectory seems to have the project reopening to daytime traffic on or before August 5 (and earning the contractor a $6.8 Million incentive).
Today, we are appreciative that Albemarle County and VDOT were good to their word in supporting the businesses that are most impacted by the construction.
We still believe there will be significant economic dislocation of some businesses (ie: Better Living), we also believe the combined efforts of VDOT and Albemarle County significant business outreach, advertising and communication efforts may soften the negative impacts.
I like lemonade.
Neil Williamson, President
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