By. Neil Williamson, President
Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of accusations of truths, half truths, and outright distortions of truth regarding the US29 Solutions Package and the overall plan for US29.
The Free Enterprise Forum shares the frustration of others in the community including the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) regarding misinformation.
Facts, modeling and statistics, even when used in rhetorical analysis, should be both sourced and transparent so the reader can determine the validity of the argument. As an organization we will continue to strive for such transparency in our work.
On Twitter earlier this month Former VDOT Commissioner and current Route 29 Solutions facilitator Philip Shucet wrote about the concern of a US29 Expressway:
Fact: There is no Rt. 29 Expressway in the making. No secret plans. No hidden agenda. Just some smart
#rt29solutions at work.
0 replies 2 retweets 2 favorites
On Twitter, I queried Shucet about the $10,000,000 dedicated to preliminary engineering on the Hydraulic interchange; clearly this was an indication of the Commonwealth’s interest in building it. His reply:
@NeilSWilliamson Good point. No preset intention either way. If study results are to go forward, then must go to MPO, HB2 priority process.
Shucet is a stand up guy who works hard to to keep his direct charge, the so called Route 29 Solutions, on track.
The Route 29 Solutions webpage [a great resource for up to date project details] lists each of the specific projects under this umbrella:
Route 29 Solutions Projects:
By compartmentalizing his work to the list above, Shucet can accurately say that “There is no Rt. 29 Expressway in the making. No secret plans”. However if one digs further into the approved planning documents a different picture, or pictures, emerge.
In August, when Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne spoke to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding the US29 Solutions, he said, “Again, I want to emphasize these (projects) are not the end of the solutions; but they are a good start. I believe in an incremental approach”. Click here for the podcast [quote is at 18:24].
Back during the Western bypass discussion, Piedmont Environmental Council Field Officer Jeff Werner produced a slide show of sketches to show the problem on US 29.
The solutions proposed in his sketch slide show included most of the Route 29 solutions package as well as a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic:
Not to be left out of the discussion, our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) joined with PEC in producing a video rendering of the proposed solutions including how an interchange at Hydraulic would work:
These ideas did not come out of thin air — All of this is actually part of the Places29 master plan for the region.
The Places29 Plan calls for 8 “Major Intersection Improvements” within the US 29 Corridor. These improvements will be designed by those in power when funds are available but based on all of the above, we see a tendency to move toward grade separated interchanges.
The Free Enterprise Forum was critical of this plan throughout the development and spoke out in vocal opposition to the plan when it was presented for final approval. The plan was approved unanimously.
I am not sure what most people mean when they use the term expressway. I tend to think of a limited access road with few if any lights or other potential vehicular conflicts.
In looking at the picture below from the Places29 plan [figure 14.18], and the one above from SELC, I wonder what most readers would call these roads?
Former Secretary Shucet is right there is no secret expressway planned for US29 and his Route29 Solutions work, while a part of the overall plan, is not gong to build the “expressway” immediately.
Whether you call the new transportation network an expressway, a boulevard or “Fred”, what is planned is not a secret at all — it is all a part of the Places29 Master Plan and it always has been.
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 and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Piedmont Environmental Council www.pecva.org accessed 11/10/2014
Southern Environmental Law Center www.selc.org accessed 11/10/2014
FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Will the built environment drive the market or will the market drive the built environment?
Will light rail be part of the transportation solution?
The answer is both yes and no to all of the above – please let me explain
This past week, the Free Enterprise Forum was honored to participate in The University of Virginia’s Architecture School 2014 VORTEX focused on reimagining US 29. We along with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Southern Environmental Law Center and City Councilor (and architect) Kathy Galvin took part in a kick off panel discussion moderated by Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow.
While the results of the VORTEX were fantastic (see drones delivering groceries) the concepts were pure and devoid of any fiscal, or in many cases technological, restraint.
Each of the 27 segments presented spent time defining the problem. Most highlighted the challenge US 29 faces serving as a local road and a major transportation corridor.
As is rather typical for these university events, there was the expected anti-automobile undertone with about half of the solutions relying on light rail to accommodate people moving [ironically, the parking lot outside the hosting Carver Recreation Center was as full as I have ever seen it].
Many of the presentations focused on the concept of the death of big box. One presenter suggested “Route 29 would be reduced to 2 lanes with nature trails winding along the side with views of the ruined big box store husks”. Others indicated significant societal changes would occur that would accelerate the demise of the sprawl.
While I was impressed a number of segments addressed the need for freight transport along the corridor and recognized the topographical challenges, none of the segments designed significantly considered the property rights issues that will be obstacles to implementation.
It is important to remember the students were seeking approval and recognition of their hard work from the faculty. We believe some of the statement included in their presentations such as “Corridor of Consumption” and “Landfill to Landform” were designed to pique the interest of the visiting professors. It is less than surprising when one competitor suggested making US29 “to the scale of the University”.
Interestingly just as the VORTEX teams were finalizing their projects, The University of Virginia Center for Survey Research released the results of their annual Jefferson Area Survey which indicated:
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
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). [Emphasis Added-NW]
The results of this survey closely mirror the 2004 Mason-Dixon conducted survey commissioned by the Free Enterprise Forum.
The US29 problem is well understood by the students, who walked the five miles of US29 from the University to the Rivanna River, as well as the residents in the survey. There is a need to reduce the traffic volume on US29.
While some students believe creating a “Blade Runner” like tunnel or delivering all our shopping needs via drone is the solution others suggest forcing increases in population density will create a more efficient development pattern and reduce society’s automobile dependency.
The Free Enterprise Forum is excited to see the students push the US 29 envelope but we continue to believe that the expeditious construction of the Western Bypass will result in a context sensitive ‘Business 29’ that meets the citizen expectations, enhance economic development AND the goals set out in the UVA VORTEX.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan 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: Free Enterprise Forum, Warner Brothers Studio
FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By Neil Williamson, President
For the last eight weeks, well funded transportation obstructionist organizations have attempted to hijack the US29 Bypass Environmental Assessment review process by changing the dynamics and falsely suggesting this week’s input session is a hurdle that must be crossed to allow the EA to move forward.
In addition these groups are using a classic form of rhetorical argument where if you do not like the answer change the question. This creation of “Obstacle Illusions” is confusing and misinforming the public.
Please let me explain.
According to their website on September 27th the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be holding a meeting to:
provide the public an opportunity to review and comment on the Environmental Assessment on the Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass project.
The meeting will be held at Jack Jouett Middle School from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in an open forum format. The school is located at 210 Lambs Lane, Charlottesville, VA 22901.
Written and oral comments will be taken at the meeting. Written comments may also be submitted by Oct. 9, 2012, to Ms. Angel Deem, Environmental Division, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1221 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219, or by email to Route29BypassEA@VDOT.Virginia.gov.
Please put “Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass Environmental Assessment” in the subject line.
It is important to note, this public input session is not mandated by Federal or State code it is an additional step VDOT is taking at the request of local officials. The goal of the meeting is to accept feedback from the public regarding the EA.
The EA seeks to answer the question of measuring the environmental impacts, the metrics used and, if the measurements exceed acceptable levels, what mitigation will be completed.
In print and television advertisements, opponents have suggested this is the opportunity to speak out against the US 29 Bypass. These advertisements suggest the public meeting is a hearing on the bypass itself creating an “obstacle illusion” that the outcome of this input meeting could stop the bypass.
One Letter to the Editor suggested “The bypass will operate to our detriment for the next 50 years in terms of meeting future needs.” (John Martin Daily Progress September 24th). Clearly Mr. Martin is not directing his comments to the EA but rather the decision to fund the roadway.
The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club chose to focus their opposition on materials that might be permitted to be transported on the proposed roadway rather than the roadway’s direct environmental impacts:
“Presence of nuclear industries at Lynchburg suggests that radioactive materials and other goods related to nuclear industries will be transported on the Route 29 Bypass if it is built.”
Really???? The nuclear card?? And if the Bypass is not built wouldn’t those same materials go right through the heart of the community???????
It seems equally ironic that Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) suggests in his September 23rd Daily Progress Letter to the Editor that the focus of the September 27th meeting should be on roadway design not the Environmental Assessment.
In a fun, albeit inaccurate, slide show on the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) website, Field Officer Jeff Werner suggests that six of the “doable” projects discussed in Places29 may not be funded if the bypass goes forward. Werner is well aware that three of the six fixes (North US29 lane expansion, Hillsdale Drive Extension, “Best Buy” Ramp) are already moving forward with actions by the Secretary of Transportation or the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB)
The inconvenient truth (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore) is that those opposed to the road can’t argue with the methods and metrics included in VDOT’s Environmental Assessment. Instead they are rallying support and donations on a false premise regarding the meeting’s purpose.
We fully anticipate the majority of participants in this week’s meeting will focus incorrectly on the roadway design due to the opponents’ aggressive advertising efforts.
It is unfortunate that thanks to road blocking groups fanning the flames of self serving “obstacle illusion”, VDOT will likely not get informed public comment on their well written Environmental Assessment.
**Editor’s Note 9/27/12 John Martin Letter to the Editor quote corrected -nw.
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.