Tag Archives: Places 29

US 29 Roadway Rope-A-Dope

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s Daily Progress banner headline touts a letter sent by Supervisor Dennis Rooker on behalf of the self selected Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee requesting an additional public hearing on the US 29 Western Bypass; a road that the a majority of the “Committee” members oppose.

This is a classic example of a vocal minority utilizing a Rope-A-Dope strategy to delay a popularly supported statewide transportation project.

Please let me explain.

Rumble-in-the-Jungle-001The Rope-A-Dope boxing strategy was most famously used in the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, known as the Rumble in the Jungle.  In that fight, Foreman was favored due to superior punching power.  During the bout Ali taunted Foreman and withstood a firestorm of punches.

ali_foreman_h boxingmemoriesHowever, far from being brutalized, Ali was relatively protected from Foreman’s blows.  When Foreman became tired from the beating he was delivering, Ali regrouped and ended up winning the match.

Outside of boxing, rope-a-dope is used to describe strategies where one seems to be accepting a losing position (i.e. actually designing the US 29 Bypass) only to delay the action and eventually overturn it.

When considering this concept first the casual observer must ask why would the task force letter be sent now, dated April 24th.  If the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) almost immediately accepted this request for a public hearing the “Committee” has specific demands regarding timing:

This includes notification to the public at least 30 days in advance of the hearing, project information being made available to the public at least 30 days in advance of the hearing and the draft Environmental Assessment being made available at least 30 days in advance of the hearing.  The public should be allowed to submit written and oral comments at the hearing as well as written comments afterwards for a reasonable period of time (at least two weeks). [emphasis added-nw]

Even if VDOT had all of this information at its fingertips (which it does not), the soonest such a public hearing could be held would be June 1st.  But June will not work for Mr. Rooker’s “Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee”.  Per the letter:

“We also request that the public hearing not be scheduled during June, July, or August since the community’s participation may be limited during these months due to vacations and community events.”

This is most interesting as Supervisor Rooker had no such issue in scheduling Albemarle County Board of Supervisors public hearings on the US 29 Bypass during the summer months last year, in fact, he strenuously advocated for such hearings.  The turnout at these summer meetings was strong with hundreds of attendees, banners, and leaflets.

In this morning’s paper, Charlottesville Tomorrows Sean Tubbs article explains the current public input process.

To comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations, VDOT is conducting an assessment to determine whether previous federal approvals of the bypass are still valid. VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said earlier this month that that process will consist of a citizen information meeting, but not a full public hearing at which comments would be entered into the public record.

“Members of the public will have the opportunity to provide comment during the citizen information meeting and during the draft environmental assessment review period,” Hatter said in an e-mail. “Public comment and questions have already been received through the two community task forces that looked at the northern and southern termini.”

Considering the turnout at last summer’s hearings, including one in Richmond, one can only surmise the true purpose of this  “Committee” request to postpone any proposed public hearing is yet another in a long string of delay tactics.

bypass survey  results graphic 2012Charlottesville Tomorrow’s recent survey confirmed the results of the 2004 Citizen Survey conducted by the Free Enterprise ForumThe public wants a US29 Bypass.  The opponents, while vocal, organized and well funded have not won the hearts and minds of the citizens.

To extend the boxing metaphor a touch further, the US 29 Western Bypass bout is clearly in the middle rounds and can still go either direction.  From this point, it looks like it will come down to the judges.

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/Graphics Credit: guardian.co.uk, boxingmemories.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

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How “Business 29” May Save “Places29”

By, Neil Williamson, President

Now that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has voted to fund the US29Western Bypass and the widening of US29 from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead, how will this fit with Albemarle County’s approved Places 29 Master Plan?Places-29-8

Like a glove – the new urban boulevard “Business 29 “ will allow for the private sector to embrace the Places 29 Vision– let me explain.

The Places29 Vision Statement:

Albemarle County’s four Northern Development Areas will feature compact development consisting of residential and employment neighborhoods that are organized around centers.

These neighborhoods and their centers will be pedestrian-oriented and mixed-use; they will offer a variety of housing choices, retail environments, office types, and employment opportunities.

They will be connected by an attractive, efficient, and accessible multimodal transportation system.
Integrated into this urban-style development, parks and open spaces will provide a sense of respite and contribute to an overall excellent quality of life.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Such design is often referred to as either “New Urbanism” or “Traditional Neighborhood Design” (TND).

These development designs, as well as Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model, have mixed use and pedestrian orientation as primary guiding principles.  How the traffic moves through these streets is a critical part of the design construct.

In his paper regarding New Urbanist streets, presented to the Urban Land Institute in 2000, Engineer C. “Rick” Chellman writes:

New Urbanist projects include the design of streets that create an environment where drivers will realize that to drive too fast or too aggressively is inappropriate, anti-social
and, perhaps most effectively, uncomfortable. With the appropriate design techniques, drivers will more automatically choose the lower target speeds and less
aggressive behaviors desired by the planners. In this desired “self-enforcing” environment, both motorists and non-motorists will feel more equivalent occupants of each particular New Urbanist street; this sense of equivalency should be a design goal as it will enhance the livability of the street and neighborhood.

houston-light-rail

Houston Light Rail

Working with The American Dream CoalitionThe Free Enterprise Forum has visited several of the leading new urbanists regions across the US over the last eight years.  While many of the communities visited had transit (usually light rail) in their core, none had a national highway running through the new urbanist districts.

As an example, Houston, Texas is surrounded by  high speed highways that keep traffic that wants to be somewhere else moving while allowing mobility in the downtown area.

Seattle Preserving the American Dream9

Bellvue, WA "Super Block"

In Bellvue, Washington, the private sector has embraced the new urbanist design and built superblocks to increase human scale and pedestrian orientation.  While there is significant vehicular traffic around the downtown, the majority of the through trips stay on the bypass just north of the downtown district.

seattle Preserving the American Dream7

Bellvue, WA Bus Stop

Bellvue’s transit stops are designed to fit into the pedestrian streetscape. Interestingly underneath three of the four corners of this intersection is an enormous parking garage that is linked via underground tunnels to the commercial buildings.

places 29 transit friendlyLooking over the renderings included in the Places29 Master Plan it seems clear that the vision is of a mixed use urban boulevard with sidewalk cafes, bike lanes and wide pedestrian sidewalks.

This vision is consistent throughout the planning document until you get to the US29 design.

Places29 RealityOne has to feel for the planner attempting to reconcile a highway of national significance with a master plan for the north downtown commercial area.  To achieve this goal the Places29 Plan calls for a series of overpasses to effectively remove those vehicles that have no intention of stopping,  away from the commercial and pedestrian activities.

Places29 identified this concern in its third chapter:

US 29 acts as a strong spine connecting all four of the Northern Development Areas. At present, the design of US 29 generally reflects the differences in character that exist between the southern and northern Development Areas. Further, the frontage conditions along US 29 affect the overall character of the adjacent development. However, this ―spine also acts as a major impediment to connectivity for any travel mode other than the auto. This barrier effect needs to be overcome in the long range planning for the area.

To address this the plan calls for a wide design that is contrary to the urban boulevard concept.  Places29 envisions US 29 as:

Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.image

Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.

With US29 Western Bypass taking the through trips (and many others)urban frontage out of the corridor.   “Business 29” can work with a  much smaller road cross section and lower speed limit.  The old/new road will be designed to link the community rather than divide it.

As we documented in our Workplace29 report, the North US 29 Corridor is home to over 20,000 jobs and a payroll exceeding 800 million dollars.  This district produces over 40% of all local tax revenue for Albemarle County.  With the advent of “Business 29” the economic vitality of this region will significantly improve and the potential of the mixed use, pedestrian oriented reality for the corridor is clearly more attainable.

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 credits Free Enterprise Forum, Other images: Albemarle County

49% of US 29 Traffic Could Use the Western Bypass –That’s A Horse of a Different Color

By. Neil Williamson, President

In the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz”, the Guardian of the Emerald City refuses to allow Dorothy and her friends in until he recognizes the importance of her visit. When he realizes her identity, he proclaims, “Well, bust my buttons! Why didn’t you say that iWizardOfOzDoorGuyn the first place? That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!” from this point forward the movie is in glorious Technicolor and the perspective changes dramatically.  Edited 9:05 pm July 7 See Comment 2 below NW

During my research on the Western Bypass of US 29, I had a similar “Bust my Buttons” revelation.

While digging into data on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) website, I reviewed US 29 North Transportation Corridor Study Technical Memorandum #3  “Existing Transportation & Urban Conditions Addendum”.

I found over 14,000 daily trips (all numbers based on 1998 CHART Regional Transportation model) that the opponents are cleverly not counting as Bypass beneficiaries.  Please let me explain this horse of a different color.

The Memorandum categorizes trips in three ways:

Trips with both ends outside urbanized Albemarle County – These are trips that have both ends outside (i.e., travel through) the urbanized portion of Albemarle County and use US 29 in the Places29 study area. These trips are regional through traffic.

Trips with one end inside urbanized Albemarle County – Trips that have one end in the urbanized portion of Albemarle County, outside the Places29 study area, and one end outside the urbanized portion of Albemarle County and use US 29 in the Places29 study area. These trips would include Greene County residents that work at the University or in Charlottesville.

Trips with both ends inside urbanized Albemarle County – These include trips made by persons living in the Places29 study area and working or shopping in the urbanized portion of Albemarle County (including Charlottesville) outside the area or by people from the urbanized area that come into the Places29 area to work or shop.This category also includes trips with both ends in the Places29 study area. These are trips made by persons living in the Places29 study area who also work or shop in the area.

us 29 logoOpponents claim that the ONLY trips that the western bypass would serve  the first category – through traffic (7,100).  While these trips would benefit, according to our research so would the majority of the second category ie: Forest Lakes to The University of Virginia.

There are approximately 21,400 external to internal trips that enter the urbanized portion of Albemarle County using US 29 North; these trips represent approximately 74% of the total 1998 ADT on US 29. Approximately, 14,100 or 67% of the trips that originate outside the urbanized portion of Albemarle County terminate in the urbanized portion of Albemarle County outside the Places29 study area and use US 29 in the Places29 study area. Approximately half of these 14,100 external to internal trips (7,800 trips) that pass through the US 29 North study area originate in or are destined for the remainder of the City of Charlottesville (city). Emphasis added – NW

horse3Based on this data, the Free Enterprise Forum extrapolates that the US 29 Western Bypass could serve at least  49% of US 29 traffic (1/2 External to Internal + External to External) – That’s a Horse of a Different Color.

Senator Daniel Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”.

Considering the most vocal opponents to the western bypass are well versed in this trip data, their vitriolic cat calls that this road serves no purpose is either a gross oversight or a deliberate error of omission designed to steer the debate away from the facts.

In either case, the community should demand better.

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 Credits: MGM)

US 29 Bypass — It’s About Time

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last week’s (6/8) Board of Supervisors split decision (4-2) “not to oppose” the Western Bypass of US 29 may prevent the loss of this  transportation alternative forever.  While we would have preferred the vote occurred as a scheduled agenda item, the Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a courageous and most timely decision.

Let me explain.

Back in us 29 logoSeptember 1992 (18 years ago)  the first parcel was acquired for the Western Bypass Right of Way.  Since that time an additional 61 parcels have been acquired. A total of $47.2 Million dollars have been spent on right of way acquisition and preliminary engineering.

The Free Enterprise Forum recently contacted the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) regarding the “Federal Clock” and the “State Clock” that were ticking regarding positive action on the US 29 Bypass project.

VDOT directed us to  Section 112 Code of Federal Regulations – Title 23 Highways (23 CFR 630.112 – Agreement provisions)

(c) The State must stipulate that as a condition to payment of the Federal funds obligated, it accepts and will comply with the following applicable provisions: (1) Project for acquisition of rights-of-way. In the event that actual construction of a road on this right-of-way is not undertaken by the close of the twentieth fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the project is authorized, the STD will repay to the FHWA the sum or sums of Federal funds paid to the transportation department under the terms of the agreement. The State may request a time extension beyond the 20-year limit with no repayment of Federal funds, and the FHWA may approve this request if it is considered reasonable.

(2) Preliminary engineering project. In the event that right-of-way acquisition for, or actual construction of, the road for which this preliminary engineering is undertaken is not started by the close of the tenth fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the project is authorized, the STD will repay to the FHWA the sum or sums of Federal funds paid to the transportation department under the terms of the agreement. The State may request a time extension for any preliminary engineering project beyond the 10-year limit with no repayment of Federal funds, and the FHWA may approve this request if it is considered reasonable.

[Emphasis added – nw]

In addition to the Federal clock that was clearly ticking toward repayment of funds, Virginia State Code § 33.1-90 stipulates:

If the transportation project contemplated, or project as defined in § 33.1-268, has not been let to contract or construction commenced within a period of twenty years from the date of the acquisition of such property and a need for the use of such property has not been determined for any alternative transportation project, upon written demand of the owner or owners, their heirs or assigns, received within ninety days from the expiration of such twenty-year period or such extension as provided for in this section or within thirty days from publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the political subdivision in which the property is located of a notice of the Commissioner’s intent to dispose of such property and shall notify to the extent practical, the last known owner(s) of said property by certified mail, such property shall be reconveyed by the Commonwealth of Virginia to such owner or owners, their heirs or assigns, upon repayment of the original purchase price, without interest.

[Emphasis added – nw]

Put bluntly the regulations mandate you have 20 years to either “Fish or Cut Bait” (with limited relief provisions).

The  Lynchburg News Advance trumpeted last week’s change as “A Major Break Through” and cited Virginia Transportation 10rel27a (connaughton pix)Secretary Sean Connaughton’s role in the discussion as well as other individuals and organizations:

Key to Albemarle’s official change of heart was a conversation [Albemarle County Supervisor Lindsay] Dorrier had with state Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, who promised to find the dollars in the state’s transportation coffers for a badly needed project in Albemarle that’s also gone unfunded.

Also of untold importance to this development have been the efforts of many civic, business and political leaders in Central Virginia. They’ve toiled for years, fighting to get state dollars to upgrade the U.S. 29 corridor from Danville in Southside to its intersection with Interstate 66 in Gainesville. Major upgrades of every urban bottleneck were addressed, save for one: Charlottesville.

There were times when it was hard to be optimistic, but folks such as Sen. Steve Newman of Lynchburg, Rex Hammond of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, Commonwealth Transportation Board members Jim Candler, Kenneth White and Marke Peake, Will Mays of Amherst and a host of others kept plugging away.

It would be remiss not to include The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce their North Charlottesville Business Council in this list of influential parties.

This decision sets forth a number of dominos and it does not necessarily mean the Western Bypass will obtain the required approvals to move forward.  As has been the case in many major decisions over the last 36 months the City of Charlottesville may have an important role to play. As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported:

At least one of the Charlottesville City Council’s representatives will have to vote to also change the language.

“This council hasn’t taken a position on the Western Bypass,” said Councilor Satyendra Huja. “Former councils were supporters of the bypass. I will consult with this council to see what their position is.”

In addition, this recent action by the Board of Supervisors will make the Bypass (along with water, sewer, and taxes) among the key campaign issues.

With the Federal and State clocks steadfastly ticking toward a potential required return of property and/or funding, the future of the US 29 Bypass may hang in the balance at the ballot box and at Charlottesville City Hall.

As the clocks continue to tick, expect a long, hot summer of debate.

It really is all about timing.  September 2012 is fast approaching.

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

Paradoxical Places29 Planning

By. Neil Williamson

As Albemarle County is moving toward a final vote on the North US 29 Master Plan, also known as Places29, The Free Enterprise Forum thought it might be helpful to consider the paradox of the considerable complexity of the Places29 plan and Albemarle’s stated desire to encourage development in the North US 29 corridor.

100_0336

In 1989, Albemarle County enacted its Comprehensive Plan.

That plan had four chapters and contained 276 pages (including two appendixes).  This was the document to guide the development of the entire county for ten years.

1989 Comprehensive Plan (left)  next to Places 29 (text only)

Fast forward to 2011, Places29 (which only covers the North US 29 Development Area) contains eight chapters with a text of over 130 pages, and appendix of over 200 pages and thirteen technical100_0338 memorandums of up to 75 pages each.

The real kicker is that within this rather verbose document that has endured a six year gestation period  it clearly states the need for even more planning and documents.

The plan calls for two additional small area plans, which the Free Enterprise Forum has called a Planner Employment Act.  While the Master Plan acknowledges that there are no funds identified for the development of the small area plans, it contends that these plans are recommended:

In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements

Is it possible that this recommendation itself illuminates staff’s recognition of the lack of property owner involvement in the six year Places29 process?

Beyond the lack of property owner buy in to the process, the over arching theme of Places29 is planning complexity.

places29_web While the goal of the Master Plan is to facilitate development in the development area, adding this level of complexity only adds to the cost of the very development Albemarle seeks to encourage. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about Albemarle’s Cost of Complexity regarding the increase in Community Development fees that staff indicated accurately reflected the amount of time it took staff to process an application.   Now by adding this additional layer of Master Planning and, perhaps, Small Area Plans one can only expect such fees to continue to escalate.

When a developer pressed on the issue of duplicative and delaying regulations in 2009, they were told by staff:

“Albemarle County is very proud of the time and expense of our development review process”

Since then a new Board of Supervisors has been elected, and a new “business friendly” philosophy has been evident.  Will this philosophical shift be enough to stop the insidious growth of government planning known as Places29?

Or will the momentum of six years and over a million dollars spent, carry the day, despite the fundamental flaws?

Only time will tell.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

“Catch-29”

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

While Joseph Heller coined the phrase “Catch-22” in his novel by that name in 1961, the cities of Danville and Lynchburg must certainly believe they are caught in a “Catch-29” regarding their efforts to get around the Charlottesville bottleneck on US 29.

Merriam-Webster defines a Catch-22 as:

1 : a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule  also : the circumstance or rule that denies a solution

2 a : an illogical, unreasonable, or senseless situation b : a measure or policy whose effect is the opposite of what was intended c : a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives

Virginia’s General Assembly has heard for many years the calls from localities south of Charlottesville pleading for a bypass.  Interestingly there is a law on the books that seems to speak to Charlottesville’s specific situation.  Reminding the gentle reader that I am not an attorney, I find this section from Virginia Code § 33.1-39 – Bypasses through or around cities and incorporated towns most interesting:

33.1-44 in any case where a municipality refuses to contribute to the construction of a bypass or an extension or connection of the primary system within said municipality the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner may construct such bypass or extension and connection without any contribution by the municipality when the Board determines that such bypass or extension and connection is primarily rural in character and that the most desirable and economical location is within said municipality. Any bypass or extension and connection built under this provision shall be maintained by the Commissioner as a part of the primary system and the municipality shall receive no payment for such bypass or extension and connection under § 33.1-41.1.

If the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner (at the direction of the Commonwealth Transportation Board) could build the bypass, and they have a desire for a Charlottesville bypass [not a foregone conclusion] why hasn’t it been done [or at least further discussed]?

Because Federal funding and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.  According to the Federal Highway Administration:

What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)?
A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is defined in Federal Transportation Legislation (23 USC 134(b) and 49 USC 5303(c)) as the designated local decision making body that is responsible for carrying out the metropolitan transportation planning process. An MPO must be designated for each urban area with a population of more than 50,000 people (i.e., for each Urbanized Area (UZA) defined in the most recent decennial Census).

Who sits on the policy board for the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO?  The voting members:

  • Satyendra Huja, Charlottesville City Council
  • Duane Snow, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • Kristin Szakos, Charlottesville City Council
  • Rodney Thomas, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • James Utterback, VDOT Culpeper District Administrator

The “Catch-29” is that the very law designed to work around (pun intended) recalcitrant local officials to put forward state transportation priorities is dependent on local officials approval to gain funding.

With the Defense Intelligence Agency utilizing US 29 for its traffic flow, one might believe the corridor has increased in its strategic importance as a part of the National Highway System.  If so,  The Free Enterprise Forum is curious when will Federal Officials step in and mandate a bypass be built to ensure traffic throughput is maintained? 

Or perhaps with the newly enforced primary arterial VDOT regulations that are in direct conflict with Places29 Vision, they have decided US 29 (at least North of the river crossing) will be designed to maximize transportation functions. 

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

 

 

 

CTB Punts on US29 Corridor Study

By. Neil Williamson, President

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has again failed to address the recommendations of their Route 29 Corridor Study subcommittee.  This inaction leaves the communities along US29 in limbo regarding the conclusions from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) $1.5 Million dollar study.

By means of background, the CTB is appointed by the Governor and is charged with establishing the administrative policies of Virginia’s transportation policies.  The 17 member panel allocates highway funding to specific projects and locates routes.  In addition the CTB provides funding for airports, seaports and public transportation.

In December of 2009, the CTB did not care for the Route 29 Corridor Study report they received and sent the consultant back to the drawing board.  In their resolution at that time they said, in part:

WHEREAS, the Board, while acknowledging the work of the consultant team, has determined that the process used to develop the Blueprint and recommendation of specific improvements was flawed, in that:

• the Blueprint fails to include several recommendations of the consultant team that were removed prior to presentation to the Board, some of which were apparently initially opposed or favored by the localities affected, which removal the Board views was premature;

The following January, the CTB appointed a subcommittee to get this process to a conclusion.  After a series of meetings, the subcommittee recognized they would not be able to meet the CTB’s stated deadline, so they requested an extension.

On September 15, 2010 the CTB extended the extended deadline with yet another resolution that read in part:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Commonwealth Transportation Board does modify the previously approved resolution and hereby directs the Board Subcommittee to continue work on the Board’s directives and present its recommendations at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board on December 8, 2010.[emphasis added]

In an ironic twist the Charlottesville Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was scheduled to present to the CTB at their December 8, 2010 meeting. 

But somehow, the CTB did not see fit to add the Route 29 Corridor study to its December 8 agenda. 

Noting this omission, The Free Enterprise Forum planned to attend the January 19th meeting of the CTB in Richmond to hear the subcommittee report.  On January 18th, we were contacted by CTB staff indicating the issue would not be on the January agenda.  When pressed, staff was “hopeful” that it would be on the February 16 agenda.

US 29 is a highway of National Significance,  The Free Enterprise Forum calls for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to accept or reject  their subcommittee’s report on the February agenda. 

The community deserves better than yet another punt.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

 

VDOT Puts the Brakes on Places29?

By. Neil Williamson, President

places29_webAfter over 6 years of study, Albemarle County’s Master Plan for the North US 29 Development areas (Places29) is headed to a vote, possibly as early as  February 2nd.  At the same time the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has informed land owners and Albemarle County of its intention to enforce design guidelines that will make the Places29 Vision impossible to achieve.

VDOT logo How, and why, after 1.2 million dollars of study ($400,000 VDOT money), does VDOT leave Places29 at the altar?

It is an example of “Vision Collision”

Please let me explain.

Places29 envisions US 29 as:

Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.image

Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.

VDOT sees the roads primary responsibility for moving vehicular traffic.  To that end they are now requiring developers use the “Geometric Design Standard for Urban Principal Arterial System (GS-5)” for the US 29 corridor north of the South Fork Rivanna River bridge. Such a road is to be designed for either 50 mph (North to Airport Road) or 60 mph (North of Airport Road). 

At the heart of the issue is VDOT’s 2005 road classification map that defined US 29 as an Urban Principal Arterial which is what defines the standards to which US 29 must be constructed.

Other important design requirements include:  a prohibition of utilities from being placed under the main travel lanes (a water/sewer line currently runs through US29 median), paved shoulders of 8’ on each side of each travel way, a minimum of 6’ ditch on either side of each travel way, to provide the required “clear zone”.

The term “clear zone” is used to describe the unobstructed, traversable area provided beyond the edge of the traveled way for the recovery of an errant vehicle. The clear zone includes shoulders, bike lanes, parking lanes and auxiliary lanes (except those auxiliary lanes that function like through lanes). Clear zone distances are based upon traffic volume, speed, and embankment slopes.

A recoverable area is to be provided that is clear of all unyielding obstacles such as trees, sign supports, utility poles, light poles, or any other fixed objects that might severely damage an out-of-control vehicle (See 2004 AASHTO A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, Chapter 5). Determining a practical clear zone often involves a series of compromises between absolute safety, engineering judgment, environmental and economic
constraints. Additional information is available in AASHTO’s Roadside Design Guide.
When establishing a full-width clear zone in an urban area is not practical due to right of way constraints, consideration should be given to establishing a reduced clear zone or incorporating as many clear zone concepts as practical such as removing roadside objects or making them crashworthy. The minimum requirement for this scenario is 1.5 ft. lateral offset. [Emphasis added – nw]

In another “Vision Collision”, Places29 foresees curb and gutter with street trees along most portions of  US 29.  VDOT’s standards clearly discourage such development and wants to see light poles and other utilities pushed to the other side of the sidewalk:

Whenever adequate right of way is available, urban projects should be designed with shoulders in lieu of curbs (unless city ordinances require otherwise) and clear zone widths should be consistent with the requirements for roadways with shoulders. (See 2004 AASHTO “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”, Chapter 7). The justification for providing a curb is to be documented in the project file (e.g. Preliminary Field Inspection Report, recommendation from Right of Way and Utilities Division, etc.).

High-Speed Roadways with curb
For roadways with design speeds of > 50 mph, curb should ONLY be utilized in special situations. These situations may include, but are not limited to the following:
– Drainage considerations
– Need for access control
– Right of way restrictions
Source: AASHTO Green Book, Chapter 4
When necessary to utilize curb on a roadway with a design speed > 50 mph for one of the situations listed above, the minimum lateral offset distance is 1.5 feet measured from the face of curb. However, consideration should be given to providing more than the minimum lateral offset to obstructions (signs, utility poles, luminaire supports, fire hydrants, etc. including breakaway devices), where practical, by placing fixed objects behind the sidewalk.

After checking with a transportation engineer source familiar with VDOT regulations we were told,

North of the South Fork Rivanna Bridge, due to speed limit of 50 to 60 mph mountable curb (CG-7) would be required along the throughway and so the only way you’ll get away with the 1.5’ lateral offsite to any obstruction that is not “breakway” is with the installation of guardrail prior to the obstruction.

How many Places29 renderings included significant guardrail?

To be clear if VDOT and Places29 are in conflict, how would a developer get relief?

The Free Enterprise Forum understands that any reduction in standard would be considered a reduction in safety of the road, the approval of any waiver rests not with Albemarle County but with the State Location and Design Engineer and perhaps the  Federal Highway Administration because the road is on the National Highway System inventory.

So why now?  Why is VDOT enforcing this design standard? 

Some have conjectured this new push for throughput on US 29 is based on a realization by upper VDOT management that the US 29 Bypass is not going to happen.  If there is no bypass, there is no alternate route if US 29 becomes blocked, thus the new “clear zone” widened shoulder will permit traffic to flow even in the event of a traffic incident. 

Where does this leave Places29?

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are so sick of discussing Places29 that they may pass it on as early as February 2nd. 

If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors does pass Places29, without fundamental changes (including real consideration of a bypass option), we believe VDOT will continue to press the arterial standards.  If forced to meet this “new” standard, many approved developments may not be able to be achieved. urban frontage

Places29 will then be nothing more than an expensive book of pretty pictures that hindered rather than enhanced development opportunities in the development areas. 

Maybe that was the idea all along.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

Places29 – “Don’t know Much about History”

By. Neil Williamson, President

When someone is sworn in as a witness in a court of law, the question is always asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

In discussing the Western Bypass, Albemarle County’s Places29  Master Plan fails on the second point “the whole truth”.

The Albemarle’s Planning Commission wanted to have something that spoke of the Western Bypass to provide historical context regarding the decision not to consider the potential roadway as a part of the “vision” plan.

[Photo Credit Cvillepedia.org]

The Free Enterprise Forum understands the desire to provide context for the County’s decision to eliminate one potential solution from ever being considered in the Places29 plan. But we ask, if such context is desired shouldn’t the WHOLE truth be included?

Nowhere in this “history” is there  mentionVDOT logo that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) already owns much of the required right of way for the Western Bypass.

Nowhere in the “history” is it mentioned that a public information session was held in 1994 about interchanges that were a part of the three party agreement (that the “history” does mention).  According to court documents:

In October 1994, a public information meeting was held to discuss the design of the grade separated interchanges to be constructed as Phase II of the Route 29 project. At the meeting, many citizens, a great number of whom represented the business community, expressed opposition to the interchanges being built at all. In fact, of the 4,372 citizens who submitted comments during or after the meeting, 3,270 opposed the construction of any of the interchanges, and 2,297 of those individuals recommended that the western bypass be constructed in lieu of the interchanges. VDOT also received correspondence requesting that the interchange phase be abandoned in favor of proceeding with the construction of the bypass. In January 1995, the City of Charlottesville passed a resolution requesting that the interchange at Hydraulic Road be abandoned. In addition, those in favor of the interchanges also voiced their opinions on the subject. On February 16, 1995, the CTB passed a resolution terminating the design and development of the interchanges and assigning the funds allocated to the interchange study to Base Case improvements and bypass development. [Emphasis added –NW]

Nowhere in the “history” is it mentioned the considerable support the western Bypass has received from both Danville and Lynchburg.

Nowhere in the “history” is it mentioned that the Western Bypass remains in the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Six Year Transportation Improvement Plan. 

The “history” [currently unavailable online from the Places29 website] now reads:

A Note about the “Western Bypass.” The US 29 North Corridor Transportation Study has shown thatplaces29_web the set of transportation improvements recommended in this Plan will be an effective and efficient means to address existing and future transportation demands for all users of the US
29 Corridor during the 20-year implementation timeframe. While the originally proposed Western Bypass would have served most of the regional traffic (the 12% of drivers moving through the Places29 area without stopping), the Bypass would not have helped local traffic (64%) or served
many of the subregional vehicle trips (24%). It was recognized in 1990 after VDOT’s consultant study of alternatives to relieve congestion in the US 29 corridor that a western bypass was not preferable to or a substitute for improvements in the corridor. In fact, in the early 1990s, the City, County, and University signed an agreement concurring with a 1990 Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) resolution that sequenced improvements such that the Western Bypass would be constructed only after completion of projects such as the widening of US 29 from Hydraulic Road to the South Fork of the Rivanna River, the Meadow Creek Parkway, grade separated interchanges on US 29 at Hydraulic Road, Greenbrier Drive, and Rio Road, and the
North Grounds Connector, and only ―when traffic on Route 29 is unacceptable and economic conditions permit.  It was in the spirit of this agreement that the County actually worked to preserve the ultimate alignment of the Western Bypass in its land use decisions for several years. It was only after a subsequent decision by the CTB in 1995 to rescind the previously agreed-to sequencing of projects that the County withdrew all support for the Western Bypass, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted unanimously to withhold federal funding for construction of the Western Bypass until the agreed-upon sequencing of the projects was restored.

An alternative route from the 250 Bypass north to Greene County that would have functioned as a longer bypass to the west of US 29 was considered during the early phases of the Places29 transportation modeling, but such an alternative route would have been significantly more expensive and, most importantly, would not have served more than about 12 – 20% of the traffic on US 29.

Clearly, the “history” presented in Places29 is truthful but it is not the whole truth.  Absent the whole truth, this concept of providing ideologically slanted selective “history” is a mistake and should be removed from the Places29 Master Plan.

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 and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

Notes from the Places29 Sausage Factory

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last night (11/10) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors choose not to move forward on a vote on Places29 Master Plan because the text of the Plan as presented failed to fully embrace the direction of the Board.

On September 2, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s report the direction provided by the Board of Supervisors, had the following headline:

Controversial interchanges removed from Places29 master plan

As one who attended the meeting, I concurred with Charlottesville Tomorrow’s assessment.  Imagine my, and the supervisors surprise to find the following language still in the plan:

A. Page 7-15 “and other site conditions near the recommended grade separated interchanges at US29/Rio, US29/Timberwood Boulevard, and US29/Airport Road”

        B.  Page 8-5 “Design and construct US29/Hydraulic intersection as a single point interchange

        C.  Page 8-6 “Intersection Improvements at Rio Road and US29 including the eventual grade separation of the intersection and adjacent and parallel roads”

       D. List of Implementation Projects Project 7 “may also include the design of Ashwood Blvd grade separation

       E.  List of Implementation Projects Project 15 “including ultimate grade separation design concepts”

       F.  List of Implementation Projects Project 46 “Construct grade separated interchange at Ashwood Blvd.”

       G.  List of Implementation Projects Project 47 “Construct grade separated interchange at Airport Rd…”

       H.  List of Implementation Projects Project 50 “Construct Grade Separated Interchange at Timberwood Blvd”

       I.    List of Implementation Projects Project 51 “Construct grade separated interchange at Hilton Heights Road”  [emphasis added-nw]

Regular readers of this blog know when The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed the Places29 plan and found these references we called for the plan to be vetoed.

Our call for rejection was based on not only the interchange references but several other factors including the proposed consideration of the Places29 SuperTax, up to $.25 per hundred property tax surcharge to pay for transportation improvements within the Places29 footprint.  In last night’s meeting the Supervisors chose to take this out of the plan.

More editing remains however.  In our comments last night, the Free Enterprise Forum requested a legal opinion from Albemarle County Attorney Larry Davis regarding the enforceability of section 8.8 f

Commitments to phase proposed development to the availability of adequate services and facilities.”

The concept of phasing approved development in the development area is troubling at best.  At worst, the requirement of “adequate services and facilities” prior to permitting approved development is a legislative initiative that has failed in each of the previous ten General Assembly sessions.  Thus this provision CAN’T be enforced and should be dropped.

We are also concerned with some of the language surrounding the concept of Small Area Plans.  The small area plans seem to be a planner employment act.  On page 4-18 the Uptown designation, that may take decades to build out, calls for a Small Area Plan to

“define purpose, location, and use/design expectations more completely, as well as market feasibility and timing.” 

Determining market feasability and timing is not the function of government [in fact it is the only thing they do not regulate] — it is the private sector that decides when to put money at risk to determine market viability.

 The Free Enterprise Forum remains concerned about the reality of Places29 and citizen expectations it may generate.  Looking at the rendering below, how long until you believe this reality will occur along Airport Road:

 

urban frontage

Drafting legislation has often been referred to as watching sausage be made, the Places29 process certainly fits this bill.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson