By. Neil Williamson, President
“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.” – English Poet Samuel Johnson
Perhaps in the case of the Route29 Solutions Hydraulic Plan the last word in that phrase should be changed to ‘transportation funding’. Both The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are preparing to receive, hold public hearings and endorse the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, a forty to fifty year land use plan, over the course of 40 to 50 days.
Why? It’s all about the money.
Please let me explain.
When the Commonwealth of Virginia changed over to the transportation funding program now known as Smart Scale it was touted as taking the politics out of transportation funding decisions [interestingly, Route29 Solutions was one of the last projects funded under the old system].
From their website:
Virginia’s SMART SCALE (§33.2-214.1) is about picking the right transportation projects for funding and ensuring the best use of limited tax dollars. It is the method of scoring planned projects included in VTrans that are funded by HB 1887. Transportation projects are scored based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers. Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.
An important part of the funding decision rests on the position of local government on the project and how the project relates to the municipality’s Comprehensive Plan. In the case of Hydraulic, this involves two governments and two different Comprehensive Plans.
In determining the timing for the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, it was determined that the land use plan should inform the transportation plan, rather than the other way around (which was done at Rio/29).
Due to the number of projects submitted and the intensity of the objective review, VDOT determined that the Smart Scale process will only open every other year and then only for about 90 days. Here is where the timing issue arises.
When, at the request of the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne advanced the funding for the panel to develop the land use plan AND the transportation plan, it was done to explicitly facilitate the Smart Scale intake dates.
From the January 2017 Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) media release:
The study schedule anticipates having the small area land use plan complete and any recommendations for transportation improvements finalized in the summer of 2018. That timetable will allow the localities to prepare applications for the next round of Smart Scale project scoring in September 2018.
So here we are. Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission will hold 5 joint public hearings the evening of October 10th. Which one is last? You guessed it The Hydraulic Small Area Plan.
Albemarle County will hold their Planning Commission Public Hearing on October 17th.
In an interesting piece of bicameral political theater, both the Planning Commissions [as well as City Council and Board of Supervisors] will be pushed to approve the Small Area Plan without making significant changes for fear the funding schedule will be lost.
It is hard to believe that many folks [perhaps even planning commissioners] will have taken the time to read the entire document. But never fear, the decisions are not being made from the top. Again from the January VDOT media release:
“It is important to emphasize,” Secretary Layne continued, “that the land use decisions will be made by the city, county and the MPO. There are no preconceived solutions or presumptions here. We are kicking off a process at the MPO’s request; the outcome of that process remains to be seen.”
How involved with the Planning Commissions and elected officials get with this small area plan knowing VDOT is building the transportation plan based upon these assumptions?
Is 120 days a good measure for reviewing a 50 plan?
Is creating a sense of urgency a bad thing in these planning exercises?
Will the public be fully engaged?
Will the elected officials?
Once again we have more questions than answers.
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 Credit: Route29Solutions.com