By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum
In a display of confidence and political expediency, then new Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe set an aggressive deadline for the Route29Solutions projects of October 30, 2017 (a week before the 2017 General Election). In addition, the Commonwealth Transportation Board provided significant incentives to the contractors for completing projects ahead of the mandated schedule — it worked.
Rio/US29 GSI – OPEN 7/18/2016
US29 Widening – Scheduled Open June 30, 2017
Berkmar Extended – Schedule Open June 30, 2017
Traffic Signal Synchronization – Scheduled June 30, 2017
Hillsdale Drive Extended – Scheduled October 30, 2017
The Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) has been working with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the contractors throughout this fast paced design/build program. The PDAP meetings, which are live streamed on the web, always receive project updates as well as information about business assistance programming. The PDAP has initiated several refinements to the project.
In many ways, this set of projects has positively impacted the manner VDOT now delivers projects. The Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of the Rio Grade Separated Interchange plan and of many aspects of the Project Delivery Advisory Panel. We have also been critical of the methodology of former panel facilitator Philip Shucet. We have been and are supportive and appreciative of the many men and women who have worked so hard to put these important transportation projects ahead of schedule.
We hope our thoughtful, respectful opposition provided the opportunity to “sharpen the saw” and through our tough questions we have helped refine the process. While we still see significant transportation infrastructure needs, we believe our community, and our Commonwealth are better off for this significant transportation investment.
Neil Williamson, President
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:
- 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.
- Request the CTB to combine Hillsdale South and Hydraulic Intersection planning and preliminary engineering budgets into one consolidated planning and preliminary engineering budget.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
By. Neil Williamson, President
As 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.
There 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.
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.
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