By. Neil Williamson, President
What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated transportation program disappear?
The Hydraulic Houdini.
Please let me explain.
Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”. Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.
My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the congestion
As a part of the “six fixes” presentation Werner included #5
Well, not so fast.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has programmed preliminary engineering on the project in FY2018.
- Approvals of the “integrated plan” have been endorsed by the Charlottesville City Council, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).
- The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has allocated $10 Million dollars to the interchange preliminary engineering.
Even with all this Charlottesville seems ready to pull a Hydraulic Houdini to make the project disappear.
Last week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s lack of excitement regarding a possible small area plan for the intersection:
“I believe that, compared to the other small-area plans, this would be least prioritized,” commission Chairman John Santoski said. “I don’t think we want to invest a lot of time and energy in a small-area plan here when we have other places that we know need the attention.”
The Charlottesville City Council informally has endorsed a $203 million package of transportation projects to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29, including $10 million to begin plans for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road.
“It is a major connecting piece for the whole network and I think we don’t want to make it seem like it’s not a high priority even though it is further down in the pipeline,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.
The idea of the Hydraulic Houdini appeared in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of last week’s Charlottesville PC field trip:
The Virginia Department of Transportation currently has allocated $10 million each for study of a future grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That money is not available until 2019, and it is possible a future administration could reprogram the funds to other projects or other years.[Emphasis added-nw]
So what has changed?
Where are the supporters with their “Real Solutions Now” placards as the City performs the Hydraulic Houdini?
Could it be now that property is being sold and the Western Bypass is beyond resuscitation, the goal has been met?
While we have steadfastly opposed the Expressway [even calling for a veto of Places29 (which passed unanimously)] we are shocked to see the “solutions” proponents so quickly abandon one of their pillars.
Perhaps now, in hindsight, we see the “integrated” transportation plan for what it really was — not an innovative effort to improve US29 congestion but a savvy political alternative to eliminate three stop lights and, more importantly, derail any bypass for at least a generation.
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, Louisa and Nelson County.
Photo Credits: Piedmont Environmental Council