Tag Archives: mpo

$2 Million of Hydraulic Planning Funds Accelerated – Now What?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In late September, the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (CA-MPO) unanimously approved a resolution that read much like a list to the Santa Claus of transportation planning:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO Policy Board recommends to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization to immediately initiate the process for planning the transportation improvements of the Hydraulic and Route 29 intersection and nearby roadways as identified in the MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan (2040 LRTP) and to enact and implement the recommendations in coordination with comprehensive land use planning including but not limited to the following:

  1. Continue the facilitated collaborative panel process to determine a potential range of reasonable options for reducing congestion and improving mobility in the general area of the Hydraulic-US 29 intersection, including the option of doing nothing.
  2. Request the CTB to combine Hillsdale South and Hydraulic Intersection planning and preliminary engineering budgets into one consolidated planning and preliminary engineering budget.
  3. Request the CTB to amend the Six Year Improvement Plan (SYIP) to advance funding for small area planning and panel discussions to begin in FY17.
  4. Request the Secretary of Transportation to authorize the MPO to lead and use transportation financial resources to conduct a small area planning process for the Hydraulic Intersection general area of the City and County, such small area planning to include transparent citizen, business and community engagement.
  5. Request the Secretary of Transportation to begin the transportation planning process so that adequate information will be available to apply for Smart Scale funding by September, 2018 should a project or projects move forward from the collaborative planning process.  Emphasis added- NW

Christmas may have come early for the CA-MPO.  On November 3rd, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, Charlottesville and Albemarle County have received “accelerated” funds for the Hydraulic Road Area Study. In his letter to CA-MPO Executive Director Chip Boyles, Layne wrote:

We look forward to the continued progress and movement, specifically with the Hydraulic Road Area Study, in order to keep Virginia moving through the Charlottesville Area…By leveraging funds between the two current projects (Hydraulic Road and Hillsdale Drive South), we will be able to commit funding in the amount of $1,000,000 for the study in this current fiscal year (FY 2017) with an additional $1,000,000 available on July 1, 2017.

The Free Enterprise Forum sincerely appreciates the forward thinking of the CA-MPO working backwards from the time of the next round of competitive funding; we also have a great deal of angst about the methodology that might or might not be used in creating this “transparent process”.   We also understand the a total of $10 million dollars for “preliminary engineering” was included as part of the approved Route 29 Solutions package.

Back in May of 2014, we wrote about Playing Dominos with a the series of interchanges resulting in the US 29 Expressway.  We have many of the same concerns we raised in that post:

No one believes that the interchange at Rio is the end, it is like putting in a 4 inch pipe on a 2 inch line, while the water will move freely on the larger connector it really does little good for the overall velocity of the water until you expand the whole line.

It is strategically important to recognize the proposed Shucet Solution is being offered as an all or nothing opportunity with a time deadline.  He (and the McAuliffe Administration) knows that is if  Domino #1 falls and Domino #2 [Hydraulic] starts to tilt – the eventual expressway will be well on its way to completion.

Once these first two dominos fall, we will start to see the calls for access management and more “grade separated intersections”.  The “depressed express lanes” will start at the Wal-Mart at Hilton Heights Road and will logically terminate with a set of flyover exit ramps to 250.

Currently the State has found the proper leverage points to “facilitate” a solution on the Charlottesville area.  The timing, strategy and tactics they have used have been nothing short of amazing.  They held an advisory panel of opinion leaders without a single vote or test for consensus, they truncated the timing of the process to elude the July 1 deadline of HB #2 that requires project prioritization and they are poised to get Charlottesville to give up almost two decades of opposition to the highly disruptive Hydraulic/US29 Interchange. 

Chess Master Bobby Fisher once said, “Tactics flow from a superior position”. Even when it is not in the best interest of the community, one must recognize the excellent gamesmanship exhibited by both Shucet and Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

Well played, gentlemen, well played indeed.

We sense gamesmanship is again at work in this acceleration process.  With the new “accelerated” funding will the CA-MPO reach out to other major users of US 29 for the panel discussions?  Considering three corners of the Hydraulic intersection are n the City of Charlottesville and one is in Albemarle County, who will drive the small area planning?  How will the City and County Planning Commissions be engaged?  Or will they?    Considering the careful wording of the CA-MPO resolution is there any community or political support for another grade separated interchange on US 29?

As usual we have more questions than answers.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson


Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org.

 

C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

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

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

As a part of the “six fixes” presentation Werner included #5

6) Widen the section of Rt. 29after Hol lymead Town Center       to fix the bottle neck,   & improve the intersection at  ...

Well, not so fast.

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.”

It is interesting contract considering Tubbs’ May 20, 2014 dispatch just prior to the MPO endorsement of Route 29 Solutions:

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.

Respectfully Submitted,

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

Albemarle’s Anemic VDOT Economic Development Score

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County earned a failing report card from Virginia Departmentepic fail of Transportation (VDOT) regarding the economic development impacts on their proposed transportation improvement.

This low score, coupled with other factors, resulted in the ONLY Transportation project Albemarle County The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization [correction 11:27am 2/22-nw] submitted for possible funding the I-64/US29 Interchange (Exit 118) ranking 282 out of 287 projects statewide and DEAD LAST in Culpeper District.

Like a parent, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned with this economic development report card and we wonder if Albemarle is willing to do what is necessary to improve their scores.  We believe absent a paradigm shift regarding economic development and proactive zoning Albemarle County  may not receive significant transportation dollars for a generation.

Please let me explain.

The Commonwealth just completed the first ever objective scoring exercise of transportation projects.  This exercise is the result of a 2014 state law commonly referred to as HB2.  This legislation was so significant – it has its own website.  According to the website:

House Bill Two (HB2) is about investing limited tax dollars in the right projects that meet the most critical transportation needs in Virginia. At the heart of the new law is scoring projects based on an objective process that involves public engagement and input. Once projects are scored, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will have the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.

Governor Terry McAuliffe signed HB2 into law in 2014, which directs the CTB to develop and use a scoring process for project selection by July 2016. Candidate projects will be screened to determine if they qualify to be scored. Projects will be scored based on an objective and fair analysis applied statewide. The law will improve transparency and accountability. The public will know how projects scored and the decisions behind the CTB’s project selections.

In an attempt to capture the different demographic needs of the state, different values are placed on the six different areas of scoring.  Albemarle and Charlottesville are in Category B.

In Category B, accessibility factors (which really are about economic opportunity) are weighted 25%,  economic development factors are weighted 20%, safety factors are also weighted 20%; Environmental quality and land use are each weighted at 10%.

In VDOT’s safety calculations, fatalities rank significantly higher than simple injury and property damage accidents rank even lower.  As this is an interchange not an intersection, the majority of the accidents are sideswipe incidents.

In his article on the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting on this issue Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs quotes Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Executive Director Chip Boyles:

“We got zeroes for economic development and we got zeroes for crash frequency reduction,” Boyles said, adding that there have been no fatalities at the intersection in the past three years.

Short of generating a rash severe life grabbing accidents, there is little a locality can do to change the safety ranking.  The other areas however localities can make a difference.

Examine the scorecard below for Exit 118, 60% of the accessibility factor revolves around “Increase in Access to Jobs” another 20% of this score is related to “Increase in Access to Jobs for disadvantaged Populations”. Therefore, 80% of the accessibility score relates to economic opportunity.  Reading the report card below, Albemarle failed to achieve a full integer on accessibility scoring .9

The Charlottesville Tomorrow article highlighted opportunities for improving scores:

John Lynch, VDOT’s Culpeper District administrator and a voting member of the MPO, said localities can increase scores by demonstrating they are actively investing in infrastructure.

“As you progress through the development of that site you would get more points towards that particular element because you’re investing money into that plan,” Lynch said.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the HB2 ranking system is here to stay and that the system as currently designed favors those localities seeking to use state dollars to advance economic development and economic opportunity.  The logical nexus is that by spending limited state dollars on projects that increase economic activity, there will be more state dollars to spend in the future.

This is where proactive zoning comes in.  Proactive zoning is when a locality seeks to rezone land, with the consent of the owner, to the uses already approved in the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle county last completed a proactive rezoning when it created the Downtown Crozet District.  Opponents of proactive rezoning cite the lack of applicant proffers creating an undue burden on the locality to mitigate the project impacts.

While we have been a proponent for landowner authorized proactive zoning for many years, the new transportation funding paradigm makes the proffers argument moot.

If proactively rezoning land, and investing in infrastructure, allows the community to be not only more attractive to new or expanding business but will improve our chances to receive needed state funding for transportation, the economic benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

poker chipsHB2 Transportation funding is very similar to sitting down at a new poker game.  The cards are the same but the rules are now completely different.  The big question is  if the Albemarle County Supervisors will ante up.

If not, other localities surely will and they will reap the benefits of their foresight and investment.

Time will surely tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, VDOT

Will The US29 Solutions Panel Find Any?

By. Neil Williamson, President

us 29 logoAs the US29 Solutions Advisory Panel prepares for their final meeting on Thursday, May 8th, we have little doubt regarding the actual outcome of the meeting but we are not convinced the impressive group assembled will be allowed to find any real solutions.

The Free Enterprise Forum continues to believe the work of this panel will be revised, spun and recommended to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) however “facilitator” Phillip Shucet [and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne] wants.

us29 woodbrook rd 0830 7.27.11There will be no vote, no test for consensus, Shucet will genteelly say here is what I and the technical team have been working on to  present to the Secretary and CTB, “What do You-all think about that?”.

The panelists, each in turn, will say nice things about the process and followed by a critique of several individual elements in the plan.

Different panelists will have different concerns and all will be dutifully recorded.  The facilitator will nod and make everyone feel as though their individual comments have been exceedingly helpful and, after checking his watch, thank the panel for all their hard work and dedication to the process and to the Commonwealth.

This is not an indictment on the members of the panel who, especially in the latest meeting, have been rather clear in their concerns.  Interestingly, both internal to the meeting and in the media Shucet has suggested he has heard the panel’s concerns but they (and by extension the community) need to keep an open mind.

page 6 (2)Rather than argue the merits of the proposed expressway with 22’ “Depressed Express Lanes” that will not have community (or MPO) support or the “do-ables” that will not have support from down state, I believe the Panel members should push for and alternative plan that is proactive rather than reactive.

Perhaps we can find one positive outcome from this public process charade.

Or as President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying “There has to be a pony in here someplace”.

One of the desired outcomes from the panel is a community supported solution that helps solve the mobility and congestion in the region.

What about a new road?  Not a bypass; Not a parallel road; a brand spanking, smell the asphalt, new road.

For the sake of argument we will call it Virginia Route 229.

Such a  four lane road could start at, or near, the Rapidan River (Madison/Greene County line) and continue to a point at least 10 miles south of the designated Development Area in Albemarle County.  Access to this road would be limited but not eliminated.  There is no alignment presupposed but certainly one should be studied.  It would be a shame to see this panel disband without even considering putting some money aside to look at a real solution to the bottleneck that is Charlottesville.

The model for such a road already exists outside of Richmond — Route 288.  Located one exit before Short Pump, drivers seeking to head south on I-95 have the option to take 288 South to Petersburg rather than dealing with I-295 or I-64.

To be clear this type of concept would be forward thinking.  Any real action on this project would be under, to use Secretary Layne’s verbiage “some future Governor”.

The only question is if the constraints placed on the Route 29 Solutions Advisory Panel will allow it to think that a new road long in the future might actually increase capacity and be part of the answer.

Alternatively, the panel could be forced to think only in political 3.5 year increments of progress and ignore real solutions.

Stay Tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

Shucet’s Charade – A Public Participation Illusion

By. Neil Williamson, Presidentus-29-logo_thumb.jpg

The Route 29 Advisory Panel is, perhaps unwittingly, playing a part in a masterfully orchestrated and expertly conducted illusion of public participation where the questions, concerns and opinions of panel members are being denied or actively dismissed. No votes are taken nor consensus measured. All the while the facilitator is complementing the panel for its incredible positive forward momentum.

And the public is none the wiser.

Please let me explain.

When Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne selected former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner turned consultant Phillip Shucet to lead and facilitate the Route 29 Advisory panel, many thought it was an inspired choice. Shucet had led a massive turnaround at VDOT gaining control of an often dysfunctional agency.

Now that the panel has had two of their three scheduled meetings, Shucet’s facilitation techniques are raising significant doubts about the integrity of the process.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes Shucet is utilizing his own specialized version of The Delphi Technique to squelch dissention and preserve forward momentum absent true public participation.

Author Lynn M Stuter explains the Delphi Technique:

The Delphi Technique is based on the Hegelian Principle of achieving Oneness of Mind through a three step process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. In thesis and antithesis, all present their opinion or views on a given subject, establishing views and opposing views. In synthesis, opposites are brought together to form the new thesis. All participants are then to accept ownership of the new thesis and support it, changing their own views to align with the new thesis. Through a continual process of evolution, Oneness of Mind will supposedly occur.

The theory of the Delphi and the reality of the Delphi are, obviously, quite different — the reality being that Oneness of Mind does not occur but only the illusion of Oneness of Mind with those who refuse to be Delphi’d being alienated from participating in the process.

As one who has been closely following the Route 29 Advisory Group meetings, I have found “The Shucet’s Six” as the primary facilitation techniques being used to impact the outcome:

  1. Control who is in the group. The number of participants and their representative groups were hand selected by Shucet to provide appearance of balance of perspectives
  2. Control Content and Release of Decision Data. Detailed materials have not been made available to members of the group until just hours prior to the meetings, Technical data supporting screening has not been available, and several specific information requests have been denied as immaterial including most recently Ms. Kristina Hoffman’s specific request for right of way requirements.
  3. Reduce/Eliminate Outside Influences. By removing public comment from the meetings and accepting it online, Shucet insulates the panel’s meetings from being distracted by a boisterous critic [AKA Citizen]
  4. Demurely Dominate Conversation. Shucet’s down home drawl, overzealous compliments and genteel demeanor seem to engage the entire panel in discussion while his voice is most often heard directing the conversation. In addition, strictly limiting the group meeting time to two hours also helps this technique succeed.
  5. Limit Decision Options. While the Route 29 Advisory Panel was supposedly provided nine options to consider in their first meeting, Shucet brought forward just four options to the second meeting as possibly moving forward based on the “Professional Judgment” [note the word opinion was not used] and screening of the Technical Team.
  6. Don’t Ask for Consensus. After two of the three scheduled meetings have occurred, how many votes have been taken? None. How many times has consensus been “tested”? Never. The closest is when Shucet indicated he saw a number of heads nodding.

Studer highlights the use of the Delphi Technique in education policy discussions:

In Educating for the New World Order by B. Eakman, the reader finds reference upon reference for the need to preserve the illusion that there is “…lay, or community, participation (in the decision-making process), while lay citizens were, in fact, being squeezed out.”

Regardless of their political stripe, the members of the Route 29 Advisory Panel are smart independent thinkers.  This charade of public process serves no one.   The Free Enterprise Forum wants to believe the members are biding their time until the final meeting and that they recognize that the process is being manipulated.

While we hope that in the panel’s next meeting members will raise concerns regarding this pseudo-public process, we know better than to bet on it.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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

 

US29 Panel Design Closes the Drapes on Sunlight

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis

The need for speed at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will result in either underrepresentation of local governments or an opaque process that prevents a full public discussion of transportation options under consideration.

PayNoAttention2_thumb.jpg

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”

 

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne has instructed former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Phillip Shucet to facilitate a short term advisory panel to determine options for solving the US29 problem. 

According the the VDOT website:

The 10-member panel …will include officials from Albemarle County, the cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville, the towns of Culpeper and Warrenton, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Charlottesville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The group will meet three times in 36 days (the first meeting is tomorrow, 3/27) prior to May 5th and their recommendation will go to the CTB at their May 14th meeting.

Here’s the rub – While representatives from local governments are on the panel, how can they effectively determine the opinion of their elected bodies in such a short time? Most have only one meeting scheduled during these 36 days.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees four possible options for the representatives of government agencies:

  1. John Wayne – Have the representative speak their personal opinion and expect they can bring their council/board along
  2. Closed Door – Have representatives contact their council/board members privately one by one and determine their position on the the options presented
  3. Open Door – Hold special meeting of each of the council/board to publicly discuss the options the panel is considering
  4. Status Quo – Have the representative speak only to the public positions the elected body have already publicly debated and voted on.

If the groups determine to use the status quo there is no purpose for the meetings.  It is highly unlikely the elected bodies will choose to have several special meetings in the midst of the budget cycle to discuss the transportation options presented to this panel. 

Therefore, we fully anticipate the elected officials to use a combination of the John Wayne and Closed Door option to move their individual agendas forward.

While we have already heard the options considered will not include a bypass option, the speed and methodology of this process leads me to believe the Administration has predetermined the solution and is using this fast track to provide the appearance of public buy in. 

This reality coupled with the panel’s desire to eliminate spoken public comment (such comments may only be entered on their website www.Route29Solutions.org) leads us to believe the process is not seeking citizen input but instead is sprinting to the predetermined CTB deadline. 

Despite VDOT’s best efforts to appear to promote panel transparency – including live streaming the meetings via www.Route29Solutions.org – the timing and construct of the panel actually obscures public view of their elected officials’ deliberations.

Without appropriate sunlight, citizens will never know what goes on behind the curtain. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson 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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: MGM Studios

UVA Survey Finds Majority Support Western Bypass

us-29-logo_thumb.jpg Editor’s note – The timing of any media release is important.  The following media release was transmitted on a Friday afternoon prior to the three day Martin Luther King Holiday weekend. – NW

Posted: Jan 17, 2014 12:47 PM EST Updated: Jan 17, 2014 1:12 PM EST

University of Virginia Press Release

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Jan. 17, 2014  A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass, according to the Jefferson Area Community Survey just completed by the University of Virginia Center for Survey Research.

Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.

Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent).

The survey was conducted by telephone from late November to mid-January and included more than 900 respondents representing the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties. All of the interviews took place after the Nov. 5 elections, in which three new representatives were elected to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, all of whom have taken positions against the Western Bypass.

Although a majority of residents is still in favor of a U.S. 29 bypass, there has been a modest but significant decrease in support since we last asked about this issue two years ago, said Tom Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research. In our January 2012 survey, 69 percent said a bypass is needed, compared to 62 percent right now.

By far the strongest predictor of opinion on these road issues is political views, he added.

The survey shows that, among those with an opinion, a slight majority of those who identify themselves as liberals oppose the Western Bypass (47.5 percent in favor, 52.5 percent opposed) in sharp contrast to conservatives (81 percent in favor) and moderates (63 percent in favor). Party identification mirrors this ideological divide, with favorable opinions toward the Western Bypass expressed by 86 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and a bare majority (52 percent) of Democrats.

There are geographic differences in views of the Western Bypass. Among those who had an opinion, about 58 percent of Charlottesville and Albemarle residents favor the road’s construction, while 84 percent of Louisa County residents favor it. Education has an affect as well: Respondents who hold advanced degrees are less favorable than others (55 percent for the Western Bypass, 45 percent against).

The survey also asked respondents if they consider traffic congestion on U.S. Route 29 going through the Charlottesville area to be “a major problem, a minor problem, not too much of a problem, or not a problem at all. Forty-nine percent of all respondents said this is a major problem. That represents little change from opinion in January 2012, when 52 percent said traffic on the road was a major” problem.

Not surprisingly, people who think traffic is a major problem on Route 29 are more likely to say a bypass is needed (87 percent of those with an opinion) and more likely to favor construction of the Western Bypass (81 percent).

“Of course, we don’t use referendums to decide where to build our roads,  Guterbock said. But if the Western Bypass were put to a vote today across our region, it would very likely have enough popular support to win approval. Nevertheless, the two political parties would probably take opposite sides of the issue, as we are seeing in the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.”

The Jefferson Area Community Survey is a regional omnibus survey carried out twice a year, reaching adults across the region via landline and cellular phones. The survey is supported financially by government agencies, nonprofits and University researchers who place questions on the survey.

Questions about the bypass issue are unsponsored questions that were included in the survey by the Center for Survey Research for their public interest value. With 904 interviews completed between Nov. 21 and Jan. 10, the survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Greene Says “No” To MPO

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

At their August 14th meeting the Greene County  Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to decline the invitation to join the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The Board had asked a number of questions regarding membership in the organization.  As the reply to those questions came in after the Board packet had been prepared for the public, the Board requested Planning Director, Bart Svoboda  read the answers into the record. 

Steve Williams TJPDC Photo Credit Greene County RecordThe answers were provided by Stephen Williams, Executive Director for The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) . The key answer that impacted the decision was that Greene County would not have voting rights initially and it might take years before such voting rights would be granted.

In addition, the increased demand of limited county resources was also a factor in the supervisors’ decision. Supervisor Jim Frydl calculated that close to one month’s cost of the administrator would be the cost Greene County could incur when the annual meeting time for a Board Member, Planning Commission Member and staff was calculated.

The five current voting members of the MPO Policy Board are Charlottesville (two), Albemarle County (two) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) (one).  These five would be deciding policy until Greene County was given voting rights. Chairman Buggs Peyton also wanted to keep the Greene County Transit System separate. It operates on an as needed basis as opposed to a regular schedule.  Both Supervisors Lamb and Deane raised concern over the inability to get the US 29 Western Bypass accomplished.

It is generally believed at the next census – in 2020 – Greene County will have grown in population to mandate inclusion into the MPO. The BOS unanimously agreed that they would prefer to not spend the money required to join the MPO and deal with the MPO in 10 years when Route 29 has been expanded northbound. Greene County has been studying the Route 29 corridor as it passes from Albemarle County into Greene County as part of their 20 year comprehensive plan  .

As the Free Enterprise Forum stated in our July 23th editorial, we believe that the Greene County Board of Supervisors considered the pros and cons of joining the MPO and made a decision in the best interest of Greene County.

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Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

Greene BOS Discusses MPO Membership

By. Brent Wilson, Greene County Field Officer

Stephen Williams, Executive Director for the Thomas Jefferson Planning Steve Williams TJPDC Photo Credit Greene County RecordDistrict Commission (TJPDC)  came to Stanardsville to sell the Charlottesville – Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)  to the Greene County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 24th.

Every 10 years, in coordination with the national census,  the MPO looks to reorganize/expand to include areas greater than 50,000 population, which now includes portions of Greene County.

Williams outlined the benefits of MPO membership:

  • MPO looks to upgrade transportation ahead of demand
  • MPO offers technical assistance to communities
  • MPO works with VDOT and advocates for projects
  • Offer demand model to review new/future traffic flows
  • No cost to Greene
  • Have input on Route 29 flowing from Albemarle into Greene

Several issues of concern were raised  by the supervisors:

Mr. Williams invited the Greene BOS to the September meeting of the MPO Policy Board which will be held somewhere in Greene County in order for the BOS to become more familiar with the organization.

The Greene County Board of Supervisors agreed to consider the proposal.

While it seems nice to be invited to the party, the fact that Greene most likely wouldn’t have a say in the decision making process is a strong strike against joining. Greene would also give up the ability to work directly with VDOT – strike two. A ten year commitment for the test drive – strike three!

The Free Enterprise Forum believes it is important, and good government dictates, that  the BOS consider all the costs and benefits.  On balance, we continue to believe Greene (and Fluvanna) should Say “No” to the MPO.

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Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

Saying “No” to the MPO

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When is a regional organization not regional enough?

In the coming days, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) [and the Greene County Board of Supervisors] will be discussing a potential expansion to include Albemarle Countys Crozet, Fluvanna County’s Lake Monticello as well as the Twin Lakes and Ruckersville “urban clusters” of Greene County.

MPO Expansion (2)By means of background, the 2010 Census identified these areas currently outside the MPO Boundary area as attaining urban cluster population numbers. 

The MPO Policy Board and the respective localities must discuss if there is interest on both parties to move forward with the expansion of the MPO Area.

The MPO is a federally mandated and federally funded organization designed to facilitate regional cooperation on transportation issues of regional importance in communities of over 50,000 residents.

According to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) website [TJPDC serves as staff for the MPO]:

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is the forum for cooperative transportation decision-making among Charlottesville, Albemarle, state and federal officials.

The MPO considers long-range regional projects and combines public input, technical data, and agency collaboration to develop forward-thinking solutions. Organized for the City of Charlottesville and the urbanized area of Albemarle County immediately surrounding the City, it is responsible for carrying out continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning and programming process*.

The MPO coordinates the transportation planning activities of the various transportation-related agencies that have both a direct and indirect impact on the Long Range Plan and Transportation Improvement Program.

Steve Williams TJPDC Photo Credit Greene County RecordThe MPO is led by TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams who reports to a Policy Board including five voting members, two Charlottesville City Councilors, two Albemarle County Supervisors and one representative from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) If the MPO was to expand the construct of the voting members of the Policy Board must change to include the new localities as well. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has documented how the current construct proved critically important during the recent approval of the US29 Western Bypass (What the MPO could learn from Kenny Rogers).   Expanding the voting members significantly changes the voting pool and diminishes the import of the VDOT representative. 

In addition, the geographic unity of the MPO footprint would be lost.  While we recognize the entire transportation network is interlinked, it is difficult to draw a direct impact of Hillsdale Drive Extended to Lake Monticello. 

Currently, if Federal funds are available for a project in an area outside the MPO, VDOT works directly with the locality to secure those funds.  If the area is within an MPO footprint there must be additional consent from the MPO .  This results in a loss of autonomy by the locality.

Finally, such an expansion would require the outlying counties to increase staffing.  The Policy Board currently meets only every other month as does the technical committee but each of these public meetings requires staff (and elected) to review and understand the matters coming before the MPO. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has attended well ovneil at MPOer a hundred hours of MPO meetings.  As a seasoned observer, we believe the potential loss of locality autonomy, the increase in staff time on issues not germane to the locality, as well as the lack of geographic unity are reason enough for Greene and Fluvanna to say “No to the MPO”.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson 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.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Greene County Record, Charlottesville Tomorrow