Tag Archives: Places29

VDOT’s Green Route 29 Expressway


By. Neil Williamson, President

“You have to show people the ramps, you have to show people the expressway you’re building,” Henry Weinschenk said.- Charlottesville Tomorrow May 2010

Henry was right — the Expressway is coming. It was likely a dozen years ago, and countless ‘stakeholder’ meetings ago when I first heard the term “US29 Expressway”; today as I review the documents and plans, I see the expressway being an accepted reality.

Today, even as the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) is calling out highways that separate communities, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) consultant planners are prepared to take US29 over (or under) Hydraulic Road and perhaps top it with a green feature, a cap park.

One of the biggest challenges to “planning” the future is current reality.  As VDOT consultants draw conceptual maps, each has a small disclaimer:


While I understand that none of the three concepts presented so far are the likely outcome of the transportation planning piece of this study, the direction is of critical import.

Despite this important caveat, significant changes to the future of Hydraulic and the areas around it are being discussed and not all of the ideas are gaining traction with panel members or the community.

The concept of urban interstates was very big in the 1960s.  Today, many of these same roads are now charged with hindering community cohesion and promoting gentrification.  The very highways that were originally constructed to promote mobility and connect communities to each other are being targeted as fracturing communities.

CNU’s recent report Freeways Without Futures is the fifth in a series of reports suggesting the destruction of such intercity interstates.  The report states:

But some highways on this list are here to stay—and even expand. State highway engineers still love straight, wide roads, and this inertia cannot be underestimated. At the very least, some state DOTs are becoming more sensitive to impacted communities. Lately, “cap parks” have emerged as compromise solutions that restitch neighborhoods bifurcated by highways by literally covering up their air and noise impacts. Denver’s much-protracted fight over I-70 came to a decisive moment last week, when the Federal Highway Administration approved Colorado’s plans to lower the highway below grade, widen lanes from six to ten, and put a grassy “cap” over a small section of it. It will adjoin a local schoolyard. The I-70 saga offers one illustration of the challenges in such highway facelifts: Many residents love the prospect of a grassy cap park, while others fear that hiding the highway beneath it could draw in a tide of gentrification and displacement. (Emphasis added – NW)

But what does this have to do with Charlottesville?

Last week, the Route 29 Solutions Hydraulic Planning Advisory Panel (colloquially known as the HPAP) heard three different Framework Concepts for the US29 Hydraulic Intersection. Two of the three concepts embrace some measure of the cap park concept.

US29 Over Hydraulic Concept:

Rt 29 at Hyrdraulic lower level plaza

In the meeting, many panel members expressed concern with creating such significant ‘public space’ under the highway.  This option likely had the least amount of support.

Alternative B where US29 goes Under Hydraulic Road:

Rt 29 Hydraulic Upper Plaza

Some panel members were intrigued by this concept especially the pedestrian orientation of the upper plaza.  There were some concerns raised but this concept will likely move forward for more refinement.

In Alternative C the “Park” bridge most closely resembles CNU’s grassy cap concept.

Park Bridge at Seminole and Rt 29

The “Park” bridge/tunnel is designed to connect Seminole Square Shopping Center and The Shops at Stonefield and eliminating direct access from these important job creating properties.

Reminding readers of the consultant caveat above, one part of this concept map included the creation of a large public park where Sperry Marine currently sits.  While appreciative of the planners’ open mindedness, one must wonder what the 500+ Sperry employees think of their office becoming a park.  Albemarle County economic development folks would be wise to be proactive in these discussions. Once maps are part of the public record people get antsy.

It is also of interest that last week’s presentation did not include any images of an at grade intersection with more limited turning movements that had been discussed in the previous meetings.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have a preferred vision for this intersection but we would echo the voice of one HPAP member who, in a previous meeting, asked “What if, in 30 years, the community decided to build a bypass, will this significant infrastructure investment still be worthwhile?”

Significant philosophical questions remain on the table:

  • If we are putting an expressway through our Main Street, should we camouflage it? How?
  • How will the neighborhoods react to a designed litany of roundabouts and through traffic?
  • How will this infrastructure investment impact property values and redevelopment possibilities?
  • What is in the best long term interest of our community?
  • If community needs and transportation needs are in conflict – which wins?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.

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: VDOT Route 29 Solutions


Ripping of the Rio GSI Band-Aid

By. Neil Williamson, President


“This is gonna hurt” — Taking off a Band Aid, you know there will be pain.  There are two diametrically different schools of thought regarding bandage removal: slowly easing it off the wound, or ripping it of swiftly.  The US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) project is clearly the latter of the two.

In both the skinned knee and the road construction project, the merit of the “rip it off” option is reduced duration (if not intensity) of pain.

Please let me explain what I have learned about this ‘short term’ pain which will start May 22nd.

As it has every night in recent months, at 9 pm on Sunday May 22nd the U.S. 29/Rio Road intersection will close to cross traffic; the difference is this time it will not reopen at 6 am on May 24th.  Vehicles will be allowed to turn right onto Rio and Rio traffic will be allowed to turn right onto U.S. 29 but the cross over will close. On U.S.  29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

A milling crew in action

Starting the night of the 22nd, the construction crews will begin digging out the asphalt (about three feet deep) and earth required to construct the bridge in the center of the intersection.  Two different milling crews will utilize two ten hour shifts and a total of thirty trucks to move the 60,000 yards of dirt and millings from the Grade Separated Interchange project up US 29 to the Berkmar Extended project where it will be stockpiled.


The dump truck fleet will be coordinated by a contractor spotter that will have the ability to stop traffic at the existing temporary light at Berkmar Drive.  Trucks will cue in the construction area on the southbound side and when the spotter turns the light red for US 29 traffic, the trucks will complete a U turn to head North on US 29 up to Towncenter drive and then take Dickerson South to Earlysville Road and then Rio Mills Road.
The clearing will start in the center but then alternate between the north and south side of the bridge.  It is important to note that two lanes Southbound and three lanes Northbound will remain open during from 6 am – 9 pm.  At night, the lane closures will be more significant (similar to today’s nigh time pattern).

As the excavators are doing their work on either side of the bridge, carpenters will be utilizing pre-tied rebar to install lagging for the retaining walls. As the earth on either side of the bridge are appropriately dropped, the clearing of earth under the bridge deck can begin and the piers that have already been poured (under the steel plates we have been driving over) can be exposed.


VDOT bridge engineer Brad Chapman inspects a bridge abutment under the construction of US29/Rio.  The abutment is covered by steel plates during the day

All 60,000 yards of dirt and millings will be cleared from the site by June 15, 2016.  To be clear, a fleet of 30 trucks will be going up and down US29 for 20 hours everyday for 23 days.  It will be an intensive, albeit short, clearing period.


The plan calls for the bridge beams to be placed starting on May 26th (a mere 39 hours after the intersection closes), with the concrete for the deck itself to be poured on top of the beams in June.

Everyone involved in this project has a high level of confidence in the safety as well as the integrity of the plans.  It is the consensus opinion that the contractor Lane/Corman will complete the majority of the work ahead of the contract requirements.

The Five Million Dollar Day.  Based on our analysis of the documents presented, and the level of confidence expressed by the contractor, the project administrator and engineers working on the project, Free Enterprise Forum believes the contractor will substantially complete the project on or before August 5, 2016 thus qualifying for the $6,829,209 incentive, that drops to $1,854,361 on August 6, 2015.

To qualify for the financial incentive, the contractor must meet a number of specific objectives including the ability for all lanes of the new interchange to be open for daytime traffic (6 am  – 9 pm).  This means not all the work will be done, but all the work that requires daytime closure will be completed.  It is anticipate the nighttime lane closures (such as we have now) will continue through December 2016.

While the Free Enterprise Forum remains steadfastly opposed to the Rio GSI, we have been impressed with the level of detail, safety and professionalism of the contractor.  We are also supportive of the financial incentive that shortens the construction period and lessens the pain for all involved.

Once more with feeling, we supported the other Route 29 solution projects (Berkmar Extended, Hillsdale Extended, US29 Widening, US29/250 Interchange improvements, Synchronized lights) but we believe the community would have been better served without the Rio GSI. We continue to believe citizens do not know Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan calls for 7 of these “intersection improvements”. Whether they admit it or not the expressway is coming.

That being said, if you are going to rip a Band Aid off, you know the pain is coming,  the quicker you do it the better.

Respectfully Submitted,
Neil Williamson

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: VDOT

Eliminate Albemarle’s Mission Creeping Community Councils


By. Neil Williamson, President

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post regarding  the Free Enterprise Forum’s concerns about Albemarle’s Community Councils and their unelected, (unintended?)  stranglehold on new  development projects.  Now in the wake of the Places29 Community Council Suspension (AKA The Sheffield Shuffle), the Board of Supervisors may take up important legal questions surrounding the import and role of the community councils.

Crozet councilIn the years since we originally raised the issue, we have heard one Albemarle County Planning Commissioner (Tom Loach) in a public meeting indicate that he did not think he could ever support  a project if it did not have the endorsement of the Community Council.

Interestingly (and counter to Loach’s comment), Albemarle County staff may have recognized the legal thin ice the locality is on if these mission creeping Community Councils continue to endorse or oppose development projects.  New language proposed in Attachment B of the staff report:

Councils are a venue to discuss and provide comments on program and policy questions and/or proposals. While Community Advisory Councils are an important venue for discussion and feedback related to development proposals, Councils do not have a legislative role in the development process and are discouraged from taking votes of approval or disapproval

Contrast this new proposed reality with Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Brian Wheeler’s extensive coverage of the consideration of the Barnes Lumber development proposal by the Crozet Community Advisory Council:

Developer postpones submission of redevelopment plan

“You gotta love Crozet.”

Tom Loach’s assessment came after two meetings totaling more than six hours of discussion in which a dozen residents critiqued plans and pitched new ideas for a mixed-use development intended to transform downtown Crozet.

“We have worked very hard to come out with a recommendation for a plan that we think is going to benefit the community,” Loach said after a council meeting last week. “It’s going to spur economic development downtown and give jobs to our citizens.” …

The consensus? Council members want less housing, more green space, views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a stronger contribution by the developer in the form of proffers to help pay for community infrastructure needs.

In addition, Albemarle’s new Community Council Policies also suggests the councils reflect a diversity of perspectives as long as all members of the councils support the approved master plan:

The Advisory Councils will provide assistance, feedback and input to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on community and county efforts related to implementation and support of the adopted Master Plan, in accordance with established county procedures. Advisory Council members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, business people, and representatives of community highlight added-nw

If all the members of the Community Council must be drinking the Kool Aid that the Master Plans came down on stone tablets from the Board of Supervisors – What’s the point?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Community Councils have (since at least 2009) exceeded their authority and failed to add significant value beyond they Master Plan reviews. 

While we appreciate many of the staff suggestions (including term limits for Council Officers!) we do not believe they go far enough

The Community Councils should be eliminated and Albemarle County Land Use and other development applications should follow the approval process as set in state code.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credit: NBC29

Rio Road GSI, Route29 Solutions, VDOT and Dylan Thomas

By. Neil Williamson, President

rio gsiIn recent weeks, I have said that I believe the Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) at US29 and Rio Road will be built despite the significant, and valid, protestations of those opposing the project.  Based on the current political structure,  the manner this project has been steamrolled through and my personal experience with this process, I believe this project will be fully constructed by late 2016 and the balance of the projects will complete prior to the Gubernatorial Election Day 2017.

Despite this forgone reality, I also believe those who oppose the project must continue their efforts.  For if a project was wrong in its inception, the reality of construction does not change its meaning.  Dylan Thomas wrote about battling the inevitable in his great poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”.

Those with long memories will remember the Free Enterprise Forum speaking in opposition to the Places29 Plan at the Albemarle County Planning Commission.  As this 2009 Charlottesville Tomorrow article outlined:

Twelve of the 14 speakers addressing the commission represented businesses and business organizations.  They spoke in opposition primarily to transportation elements of the plan, specifically grade separation on U.S. 29 at six key interchanges.

Williamson said in an interview that his organization had reached the conclusion that the County shouldn’t even attempt to do land use and transportation planning together and that attempts to do so were “perpetuating the island mentality of the Albemarle-Charlottesville community.”

“I believe Places29 would be better served if it was simply a land use plan,” said Williamson. “Land use should inform transportation decisions, but the transportation decisions should be made in a larger regional context.”

The Planning Commission endorsed the plan 4-2 and sent it to the Board of Supervisors for action.  Prior to the vote on the Places29 Plan we clearly called for a veto

Interestingly as a part of the Places29 discussion that was eventually endorsed (6-0) included [according to a 2011 article by Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow]:

At the request of the board, consideration of grade-separated interchanges at key intersections along U.S. 29 will be delayed for at least five years, until the plan is required by state law to be reviewed. State officials are warning against the total removal of the interchanges from the plan.

“If the interchanges are removed from the Places29 plan, additional traffic modeling and study would need to be done to ensure that current and future land use and recommended improvements to Route 29 support the goals of Places29 and the needs of the regional transportation network,” VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said in an interview.

Much has changed since the passing of Places29.  The Western Bypass was revived, contracted,  then discouraged by federal action only to be eventually discarded by the newly elected Governor Terry McAuliffe.  The membership of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors changed as well. 

Just this year the community was introduced to Former Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Philip Shucet who led two panels that never voted but provided important input to the “Route29 Solutions” that will be completed prior to Governor McAuliffe’s last day in office.

don quixoteWith all of this as preface, I was reminded not of Cervantes Don Quixote but of the Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas (no known relation to former Albemarle Supervisor Rodney Thomas).  Thomas clearly understood the realities ahead as he wrote his most famous work.

It is with Thomas’ words that I close this post and proudly support the continued, though perhaps futile, battle to eliminate the Grade Separated Interchange at US29 and Rio Road. 


Dylan Thomas —

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credit: Route29solutions.com

The Sheffield Shuffle – Places29 Citizen Council Suspended By BOS

By. Neil Williamson, President

places29_webLate in their evening meeting last week, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors effectively suspended the currently appointed Places29 Citizen Advisory Council and asked staff to consider eliminating the Council and perhaps replacing it with two councils with a smaller geographic footprint.  The group’s members were informed of the Board’s decision via e-mail earlier this week [full text below].

Supervisor Brad Sheffield (Rio) brought the item up in other matters from the Board.  He mentioned a number of recent resignations from the group and suggested in the year he has been a part of the panel it seems to struggle to make decisions.  In his comments, Sheffield said this was not an indictment of the members of the Council, he said, “I have respect for a lot of them”.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel (Jack Jouett)  agreed saying that it might be better to break into two groups and focused on their charge.

The charge of the group according to the Albemarle County Website is:

The Places 29 Community Advisory Council (P29CAC) is an advisory committee that provides assistance to County staff and the Board of Supervisors on civic/community issues related to implementation of the Places 29 Master Plan in accordance with established County procedures. Members will communicate with their constituencies to increase understanding of and support for successful implementation of the Master Plan. The membership is broad-based to incorporate a variety of perspectives and ideas and to provide citizens, businesspersons and representatives of active community groups a chance to be engaged and be heard in a constructive and meaningful way. Emphasis added-nw

shuffleThe Free Enterprise Forum sees this “Sheffield Shuffle” as a legislative slight of hand designed  to change the composition of Citizen Councils that do not philosophically agree with the current Board.  While we agree this group has not been successful in reaching consensus, we do not think that means it has not been successful.  We believe this community is conflicted.  Sometimes, recognizing that there is not a community consensus is more important than a false agreement.

In communicating the consensus decision of the Board, Sheffield suggested panel members will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed “adjustments” that will come forward from the county staff.  The full content of the “Dear John” e-mail is reprinted below:

On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, I wanted to check in with you all on the status of the Places29 Community Advisory Council.  As I know you all are aware, there is a significant amount of activity occurring now, and in the short and long term future of this area of the County. All of this will require a very high level of community engagement in planning and decision making, such as prioritization of capital infrastructure improvements.  The Board is anxious to make sure that the Places29 Community Advisory Council is well positioned to be a successful partner and is considering some adjustments to the Council.  For example, the size and number of residents and businesses in the area is much larger than that of the other councils, which makes it difficult for the group to focus in on issues of shared neighborhood concern.  A majority of the Board feels that a reformation of the Places29 CAC, perhaps considering two councils or other adjustments, would help the Council meet its intended mission, so we have asked staff to assess the situation and bring forward a recommendation in February. Emphasis added-nw

We very much value your service to the Places29 CAC, and staff will ask you, as members, for your insights as part of their assessment.  Out of respect for your time and in light of this assessment, the Board will cancel the next two regular meetings of the Places29 CAC (January and February) and ask the Places29 members to be ready to receive further information after a discussion in February. We hope each of you will take this time to prepare and share your thoughts with staff on how best to make the Places29 CAC a productive community group.

Thank you.


Brad Sheffield
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
Rio District

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a strategic move to eliminate the palpable dissent on the Places29 CAC and will be watching closely at who the Board chooses to sit on these newly formed “Citizen representative” groups.

It will be most interesting if those members that continue to challenge the current Board philosophy will find themselves without a seat at the table.

As always, we have more questions than answers.  Stay tuned.


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

Photo Credit:  purpologydotcom.files.wordpress.com

Albemarle Development Double Standard Exposed as VDOT Steamrolls Places29 Master Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

Funny what a difference a few years makes.

Back in February 2011, as a part of gaining eventual acceptance of their Places29 Master Plan,  Albemarle County made what many might be called a promise to their citizens:

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, this Plan recommends preparation of Small Area Plans for two areas:
1) The area around the intersection of US 29 and Rio Road
2) The Airport Road Corridor

Remember Places29? A six year $1 Million dollar planning exercise complete with renderings and an implementation plan.  Lest anyone think the small area plans were just a throw away line in a lengthy Master Plan —  the promise included great detail. (and we fought it, and lost)

During preparation of the Small Area Plan and design of the road improvements, business and property owners will be invited to work with County, VDOT, and TJPDC staff to identify and eliminate or minimize possible impacts of the road improvements. When the Small Area Plan and preliminary design are completed, the short-term (construction) impacts and long-term impacts of the road improvements will be known.

Now specifically as it relates to US29 and Rio Road intersection, the Places29 Master Plan clearly outlines what is to occur:

Intersection Improvements at Rio Road and US 29. The process of improving this intersection and the transportation network around it will begin with preparation of a Small Area Plan. The small area planning process will include evaluation and development of the preliminary design concepts for transportation improvements that could prolong the life of the at-grade intersection and provide a design
concept for long-term improvements, as determined necessary at the time based on updated traffic information. The small area planning process is not expected to begin until the second five years of Plan

As we now know, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of steam rolling past the Comprehensive Plan and having conceptual plans in front of the Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP)  next Thursday (8/28).  It has been made abundantly clear that the design concepts will be for a grade separated intersection despite Page A2-23, Project Reference No.18 of the Master Plan calling for:

Pursue design concepts that provide, to the extent feasible and practical, at grade relationships of roads to business to facilitate visibility and access.

The Free Enterprise Forum, and others have been incredibly concerned about the sequencing of the US29 improvements.  The Master Plan also considered this issue:

Short-term issues related to the construction of intersection improvements should be addressed through strategic construction phasing, development of the parallel local road network to provide alternative access prior to the construction of intersection improvements, and other strategies.

100_0338While the Free Enterprise Forum did not support passage of the Places29 Master Plan, we are well aware of the significant staff time and citizen engagement that was a part of the process.

As we see private applicants held up to the exacting standards of the Master Plans as compared with their development plans, one has to wonder what kind of double standard Albemarle County is pursuing.

To be clear, if a developer wanted to make such a significant change staff would mandate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment process (likely a year) be initiated before they would ever look at a such a development proposal.  Then if successful, a Zoning Text Amendment (another 18-24 months) would be required.

The timetable for the VDOT projects is significantly truncated.  According to the summary minutes of the August 7th VDOT PDAP meeting:

The panel should see conceptual drawings at the next PDAP meeting on Aug. 28.  Design Public hearings for Rio intersection and Rt. 29 widening are currently scheduled for November 2014, and for Berkmar in July 2015.

The July 24th PDAP presentation provided the final milestone on VDOT’s projected timetables:

No-Excuses Deadline to complete
Berkmar, 29 Widening and all associated
work outside Rio intersection
Oct 30, 2017

No where is there any discussion of conformity with the Master Plan. 

Could the County is possibly unaware that their Million Dollar citizen involved Places29 master plan is being steamrolled by VDOT?

As a state agency, is VDOT a super developer with extraordinary powers over the mandates in the Comprehensive Plan? 

Clearly a Master Planning development double standard exists in Albemarle; the question is will anyone do anything about it?

If the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors fails to act and provide the citizens the promises contained in Places29 perhaps the entire Master Planning process should be questioned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Playing Dominos on The US 29 Expressway

By Neil Williamson, President

dominoesTo even the most casual observers, it is becoming evident that the US29 Expressway Domino Strategy is working.  By virtue of photoshop engineering, Route 29 Advisory Panel Facilitator/Puppet master Phillip Shucet has  convinced many that not only can US29 interchanges be built but it will be “no big deal” to do so.

The concept is to start with Domino #1 – a grade separated interchange on US29 (at Rio) and then patiently move south and north with at least five more economically disruptive grade separated interchanges and significant left turn restrictions (AKA Access Management) until the full US29 Expressway from Hollymead to 250 is achieved.


Photoshop Engineering US29 Expressway Domino #1 Rio Road Grade Separated Intersection

For those that don’t remember how the access management plan works it can be expressed arithmetically as 3 right turns = 1 left.  The concept that was trumpeted in Places29 advocated such solutions and much more.

Interestingly, a recent Charlottesville Tomorrow unscientific poll found 2/3rds (67%) of those responding had an unfavorable position regarding the proposed Rio interchange.

As Albemarle County prepares to hear more from the public on May 27th regarding the First US29 Domino (Rio Road) the City of Charlottesville, (with Mayor Huja absent on a previously scheduled trip), seems to have indicated a willingness to accept $10 million dollars for Preliminary Engineering of the Domino #2 (a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic/US29) that they have opposed since 1995.


Photoshop Engineering US29 Expressway Domino #2 Hydraulic Road Grade Separated Intersection

To understand the opposition, one might want to review the 1995 resolution passed by the Planning Commission and compare their concerns then with the concept presented directly above.

this proposal of the Hydraulic Road Grade Separated Interchange not be further pursued at this time by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), since it is not in the best interest of the community for the following reasons:

1.  It does not significantly deal with identified traffic problems.  It devotes much most of the right of way and improvements to thru-traffic problems and it does not adequately deal with the local traffic needs of the community . . .

2.  It will have significant adverse economic impact on adjacent businesses and properties in terms of; limiting access to these properties and due to additional right-of-way acquisitions at this intersection. [sic] It will require U-turn movements at intersection to get to businesses on the other side of the intersection.

3.  It will have significant adverse impact on the quality of the environment of the City; because of the nature of proposed development, which includes 25 feet depressed 29 North lanes with retaining walls.  the nature of the proposed interchange design is not harmonious to the character of the community. [Emphasis added- nw]

4.  It will have significant adverse impact on the utilities as they will have to be relocated and would cost a significant amount for such actions.

5.  It would have an adverse impact due to noise and air pollution.

6.  It would have an adverse impact on the response time on utility vehicles in adjacent neighborhoods and businesses especially as it relates to public safety and emergency vehicles.

7.  It will result in the elimination of a large amount of improvements currently being made to the intersection and on 29 North.

BE  IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Planning Commission asks the City Council to ask the Virginia Department of Transportation not to build this interchange at this time….. Unanimously approved by The Charlottesville Planning Commission January 12, 1995

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 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.

VDOT's last attempt at US29/250 interchange

VDOT’s last attempt of photoshop engineering at US29/250 interchange [since abandoned]

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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Albemarle Arrogance on US29


By. Neil Williamson, President

directional question signPrior to determining what transportation solution to implement on US29, the community, state and federal government must determine exactly what problem they are trying to solve. Unfortunately,the Free Enterprise Forum continues to see a vocal minority expressing a self centered circular argument that precludes productive dialog.

Please let me explain.

The February 18th letter from The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) changed the conversation paradigm from the approved and funded bypass versus anything else to everything is now on the table.

But the question remains, what is the problem the project is seeking to solve?

Alice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleLewis Carroll captured this concept in his famous tome Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Throughout the 5 hour public hearing at the Albemarle Board of Supervisors last month, speakers mentioned that the bypass is a misnomer and needs to be significantly longer.  The Free Enterprise Forum wrote about this concept in September US29 Bypass Extension is too short and too long.

The question raised by the FHWA letter is one of “purpose and need”.  The feds believe this road was properly designed for a time that has passed.  The letter also suggests that VDOT should get significant buy in from the community to any solution proposed.

To gain community consensus, the Free Enterprise Forum believes an objective set of metrics needs to be developed to evaluate ANY proposed solution.  The metrics discussion should happen now absent any concrete (pun intended) concept. Some of the metrics I have heard discussed include:

          • Cost/Return on Investment
          • Throughput Improvement (Corridor Travel time)
          • Congestion Improvement (how many hours at level of service  E or worse)
          • Preservation/Destruction of Rural Area
          • Water Quality
          • Economic Dislocation
          • Freight Capacity
          • Distance to Schools

us 29 logoSeemingly, there are some in the community that have little to no concern about the import of this National Highway and Federal Aid Route as it relates to the rest of the Commonwealth. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs article in Sunday’s Daily Progress included two direct quotes that clearly voiced this sentiment:

“I don’t think … I’m sitting here to worry about people from Lynchburg getting to Washington, D.C.,” said Places29 council member Cynthia Neff. “I’m worried about the growth area of the Albemarle community and how we move traffic through most effectively.”

“It’s obvious Virginia needs a third north-south interstate, but it ain’t U.S. 29,” Places29 Council Member and President of Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition George]  Larie said. “There are too many driveways.”

The Free Enterprise Forum has also learned that one person at the meeting heard a Places29 Council member member suggest under their breath “[explicative deleted] Lynchburg”.

It is interesting those generally described as Bypass Opponents, including Neff and Laurie, have little difficulty with the concept of accepting Federal funds (from all of the US) for transportation improvements as long as they are programmed for their myopic local improvements.  This “Albemarle Arrogance” suggests a lack of understanding of the word “Commonwealth” and undercuts the goals of VDOT.

Despite calls for the immediate sale of Western Bypass Right of Way,  Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) February meeting discussion of selling the right of way is premature because it would rule out a possible solution.

Interestingly, in the February meeting two CTB members indicated a willingness to accept the funds that had been dedicated for Charlottesville and reprogramming them to projects in their districts.  Again, Layne suggested such reprogramming of funds would be premature (but not out of the question).

Unfortunately, I believe Lewis Carroll correctly projected Albemarle County’s current transportation planning philosophy in Through the Looking Glass.

“Well, in out country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’dAlice_in_Wonderland generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

We eagerly await the March 19th CTB meeting where VDOT has been charged to present a laundry list of projects designed to address the concerns raised in the FHWA letter.  Whether any such projects might garner the required local support is an open question.  If not, there are plenty of other communities in the Commonwealth who are lining up for these Federal dollars.

If the funds are reprogrammed outside of Albemarle, no significant transportation improvements will likely be completed in the near term “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”.

Maybe that was the opposition’s goal after all.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credits: Pixabay, Walt Disney Company

Time to Take a Stand on The US29 Bypass


By. Neil Williamson, President

Very rarely does the wonkish world of local public policy evoke images of Gary Cooper and “High Noon” but there seems to behigh non an ominous sense of a showdown coming at the US 29 Western Bypass hearing this Wednesday at 4 pm (not High Noon).

Where do you stand?

Will you make your voice heard this Wednesday?

Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB)  voted (12-1) to allocate $230 million dollars to the US 29 Western Bypass and the widening of US 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Holymead Town Center.

The CTB did not vote (nor was it on their agenda to consider) in favor of the Christmas list that was included in a letter signed by the chair and vice chair of the  Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).   After our blog post regarding the letter, one commenter on the Free Enterprise Forum blog opined “I am surprised they didn’t ask for a pony”.

We have written a number of posts related to this road in recent weeks.  We are unabashedly in favor of building the Western Bypass.

It comes down to this – a vote by the MPO to accept or reject the CTB allocation of $230 million for the US 29 Western bypass and a second project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes between the South Fork Rivanna River and Hollymead Town Center.

This morning’s front page story  in The Daily Progress by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs suggests the MPO may defer a decision (as predicted by this blog last week).

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the time for a decision is now.  There has been significant citizen input and a commitment made by the Commonwealth to fund both the Bypass and widening of US29 – As a community are we really going to walk away from that??????

high_noon_clockLet me ask the question directly – Will you come down to the Albemarle County Office Building on Wednesday at 4 pm and make your voice heard?

Alternatively, you can contact the members of the MPO directly with your vision of the future of US 29.  The MPO member’s contact information:

Rodney Thomas, Chair, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
3411 N. Indian Spring Road, Charlottesville, VA 22901
(434) 242-3322

Kristin Szakos, Vice Chair, Charlottesville City Council
Box 911, City Hall, Charlottesville, VA, 22902
(434) 970-3113

Satyendra Huja, Charlottesville City Council
1502 Holly road, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22901, U.S.A.
(434) 977-5094

Duane Snow, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
905 Leigh Way, Charlottesville, VA 22901

James Utterback, VDOT Culpeper District Administrator

The future belongs to those who lead and those who support them.  Make your voice heard.   I anticipate I will see you on Wednesday.

Now is the time, the state has stepped up, will you?


Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Photo Credits (Stanley Kramer Productions)


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

Free Enterprise Forum on the Air

Neil Williamson, President and Executive Director of the Free Enterprise Forum visited with Joe Thomas of WCHV on Wednesday Morning to discuss the progress of Albemarle County’s Places29 Master Plan.

The podcast can be found here

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson