Tag Archives: Rio Road

The ARB Should Follow The EPA on U.S. 29 GSI

By. Neil Williamson, President

Earlier today, the Free Enterprise Forum asked the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) to follow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead and issue a limited categorical exclusion for business signage in the U S 29/ Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) Impact Area.

The EPA determined that the GSI project qualified for a categorical exclusion from environmental review, shouldn’t businesses attempting to survive the onslaught of construction and new traffic patterns receive the same kind of treatment from the ARB.

Please let me explain.

Even those not directly involved with business understand that businesses exist to meet the needs of customers.  If a customer is unaware of a business it is impossible to meet the customer needs.  This is where customer awareness and signage comes in.

While potential customers may not stop in to a North 29 business every time they travel on the road – they do see it and this raises company awareness.

In a recent project in Gainesville (Linton Hall Interchange) we watched many local businesses suffer Jiffy Lube Linton Hallthrough their construction time line.  Predictably, some did not make it.

Jiffy Lube was one of the local businesses impacted severely. After the highway construction was started they petitioned and got a small sign placed just past the “Jersey” barrier (photo left).  In a phone interview, the Jiffy Lube manager indicated the sign has helped “bring some of the customers back but we have lost a ton of business.”  

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the time is NOW to get the changes in place in Albemarle.  Not only do we want to have little or no ARB constraint, we believe the signage permitted should be at least doubled for impacted businesses and height constraints be considered due to the change in roadway elevation.

Further, we ask that Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel member (especially Mark Graham and Brad Sheffield) champion this cause and do what ever can bspeed reevese done to fast track the ordinance change process.

I recognize this may seem like an alarmist call to action but believe me, just like Keanu Reeves in the 1994 film Speed, this entire project is rolling very fast and will explode if we don’t take action.

The ever speeding US29 Solutions steamroller is on schedule.  Despite significant public outcry the Rio Road GSI is prioritized first.  According to the Route 29 Solutions website:

[US29/RIO GSI] Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 and will be completed no later than Dec. 2, 2016. Construction that restricts movement on Rio Road through the intersection must be done between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time, Rio Road will be closed to through traffic and left turns at the Route 29 intersection.The Rio Road intersection must be reopened to all traffic movements no later than Sept. 2, 2016. [Emphasis added-nw]

Four lanes in each direction on Route 29, and two lanes in each direction on Rio Road, will be maintained during construction except during the period between May 23 and Sept. 2, 2016. During that time traffic on Rio Road will be limited to right turns onto Route 29 and traffic will not be able to cross the intersection. On Route 29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and right turns onto Rio Road will be allowed at all times.

A temporary intersection at Route 29 and Berkmar Drive, controlled by a signal, will serve as a detour and allow traffic from Berkmar to turn right or left onto Route 29 and travel north or south to Rio Road and businesses along Route 29 north or south of Berkmar. That signal will also have preemption equipment that allows priority access for emergency vehicles.Traffic from Route 29 north and south will be able to access Berkmar at the temporary intersection.

Recognizing Albemarle’s unceasing  desire to have homogenized entrance corridors, the Free Enterprise Forum has requested that the sign ordinance and ARB regulations be lifted for 24 months.  This time frame would provide those owners who choose to make the investment in temporary signage to impact consumer travel and shopping patterns during and AFTER construction.

Two members of the ARB, Chuck Lebo and Fred Missel, seemed to be in general agreement with our suggestion.  The third member present, Vice Chair Marcia Joseph asked to receive the information in writing so she might consider it from all angles.  The ARB asked staff to consider the concept and perhaps draft a resolution to the Board of Supervisors regarding our proposal.

If we fail to act NOW, the businesses will be dying on the vine before the regulatory relief can help them.

Then we will see signs that really negatively impact the community:


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: Free Enterprise Forum, christheentrepreneur.wordpress.com


In Their Own Words – Are Bypass Opponents Arguments Intellectually Consistent?

By Neil Williamson, President

What a difference a year or two makes.  Later today the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will hold a public hearing regarding the so-called Route29 Solutions projects (US29/Rio Interchange, Berkmar Extended and US29 Widening north of Polo Grounds Road).

In conductinus-29-logo_thumb.jpgg our research prior to the public hearing, we reviewed previous testimony about the US29 corridor and found a number of concerns that were raised regarding the now defunded bypass that are not being brought forward on consideration of the Route29 Solutions.

Have these projects truly answered these concerns or are the bypass opponents standing down in face of this “better than a bypass” solution?

In their own words –

Environmental Review: “NEPA requires that careful consideration be given to projects like this before the federal government will approve them,” [Southern Environmental Law Center’s Morgan] Butler said. “It’s about looking at the impacts of a project on the environment, health and community…. We desperately need people to weigh in with both federal and state officials voicing their opposition to this project and demanding a thorough analysis of its impacts be done,” Butler said.” – Sean Tubbs “Environmental groups continue fight against bypass” Charlottesville Tomorrow January 19, 2012

VDOT Vision: “The reality is that VDOT has a vision for Route 29 becoming an interstate highway. Localities must realize that if they do not plan for their portion of Rt. 29, VDOT will do it for them. In lieu of progressive, locally driven, and forward thinking solutions, VDOT will mandate the narrow-minded default: a bypass. In Albemarle, VDOT manipulated the political process—leaving local residents without Places29 and in its place a quarter-billion-dollar project that will not alleviate congestion.” – Jeff Werner “Charlottesville Western Bypass: Not just a local issue” Piedmont Environmental Council 17 September 2012

Design Build I: “Unfortunately, because of the nontransparent design-build process that Connaughton has utilized, no public hearings have been allowed on the current contract design, and there will be very large cost overruns and change orders in the future unless this project is terminated.” – Jim Rich “Road to Nowhere” The Hook 2/7/13

Induced Traffic: “Called “induced traffic” by transportation economists, almost every time a highway network capacity is expanded by 10 percent, instantly there is a four percent growth in the number of vehicles. In a few years – generally less than five – the increase in cars and trucks climbs to 10 percent and the congestion “benefit” is gone as the relieved roads are carrying more than they were before construction. A Virginia transportation study in 1998 called it “a futile exercise” to attempt to build out of congestion and national research over 15 years of 70” – Randy Salzman Congestion “Relief” Western “Bypass”

Design Build II: “[Dennis] Rooker has an even bigger problem with the “design-build” project, in which the construction companies design the road based on VDOT specs.” – Hawes Spencer “Bypass spins: Low bid cheers some, not others”– The Hook 5/11/2012

Design-Build III: As part of the fast-track process, VDOT is giving contractors the right to hundreds of change of orders which will increase construction cost. Since the state is required bids PRIOR to discovering many necessary facts and even identifying relevant regulations, contractors will be able to request massive numbers of changes and cost overruns are guaranteed “ – Randy Salzman Western “Bypass” All Pain, No Gain

Noise: As VDOT, has already removed landscaping and other amenities from the bidding process, there is little chance that the state will afford the concrete barriers to adequately protect neighborhoods. – Randy Salzman Western “Bypass” All Pain, No Gain

It will be interesting to see if any of these concerns are voiced this evening – somehow I have my doubts.

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

VDOT Losing Control on US29 Solutions?

By. Neil Williamson, President

“It seems how lately, baby
Got a bad case steamroller blues” – James Taylor

US29 Survey July 16 2014As we all are getting accustomed to yellow and orange vests in the impacted areas of US29, the Free Enterprise Forum has learned we will have significantly less control over the US29 projects than we were led to believe at the outset.

Later this week the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will rubber stamp the Shucet  US29 Solution Package.  Interestingly, only now have we learned (via Twitter) the sequencing of these long desired projects is seemingly out of our control.

That’s right despite calm (and exceedingly carefully worded) reassurances during the misnamed US29 Advisory Board meetings that sequencing will be an important part of the implementation strategies.  We learned in a Twitter exchange (below) not only will the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) not control the sequencing of project – the contract will incentivize Rio first.

“Projects will be reasonably sequenced. But the order can’t be presumed.” – Philip Shucet  July 17 via Twitter

I then “tweeted back”pressed for more information asking “who would dictate the order VDOT or the winner of the Design Build competition?”

“Contractor will propose sequence. But incentive will be to finish Rio early.” – Philip Shucet July 17 via Twitter

Shucet continues to amaze at his deft and transparent efforts to move the projects and the conversation forward.  By placing the decision of sequencing to the contractor he eliminates VDOT responsibility for the decision.  By placing a financial incentive on early Rio completion, he clearly stacks the deck in favor of the fast track for that project.

us-29-logo_thumb.jpgWhat of the critically important (and funded) parallel road network that might alleviate some of the construction impacts?  It will now be at the contractor’s discretion and financial detriment to place those projects ahead of the construction at Rio Road.

In February 2008, the Free Enterprise Forum commissioned a study of the Rio interchange concept by Jack Hodge of Volkert Engineering.  Hodge, with over thirty nine years of experience as a VDOT engineer, including 11 years as the Chief Engineer, found significant technical concerns, including issues with the ability for the project to maintain a free-flow of traffic on US 29 during construction of the interchange.

The maintenance of traffic will be a major concern during construction causing delays to the motorist and interruption of access to businesses located in the vicinity.  The Places 29 study assumes, in addition to the US 29 proposed improvements, significant local street improvements parallel to US 29 on both the east and west sides of US 29.  For traffic to have any hope of reaching its destination in a reasonable travel time, these improvements will have to be in place prior to the construction of the interchanges.  [Emphasis added –NW]

In their first meeting, the newly assembled US 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel identified four success measures for their work:

1. Maintain 80%-85% of current traffic on local roads through Rio-29 intersection

2. Maintain the county’s current tax revenue market share from the 29 corridor

3. Maintain all current traffic lanes and access points during construction

4. Develop adequate risk management practices to anticipate and avoid consequences

While these success metrics are admirable, a failure to maintain control the sequence of the construction of the various projects negatively impacts the ability to attain such targets.Amarillo “Slim” Preston

How, and when, we continue learn critical parts of the US 29 Solutions implementation reminds me of professional gambler Amarillo “Slim” Preston who famously said “If you’re at a poker table and you don’t see a sucker, it’s you.” 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Illegal Road Signs and Bounty Hunters

Forum Watch Editorial


In an ongoing (five years or more) discussion with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Albemarle County Board of Supervisorsis now contemplating hiring bounty hunters to collect illegal road signs erected in the VDOT right of way.


What makes a sign illegal?  According to The Code of Virginia Section 33.1

§ 33.1-370. Special provisions pertaining to interstate, national highway system, and federal-aid primary highways.

A. Notwithstanding the territorial limitation set out in § 33.1-353, no sign or advertisement adjacent to any interstate, national highway system, or federal-aid primary highway shall be erected, maintained or displayed which is visible from the main traveled way within 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-way, except as provided in subsections B and D of this section, and outside of an urban area no sign or advertisement beyond 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-way of any interstate, national highway system, or federal-aid primary highway which is visible from the main traveled way shall be erected, maintained, or displayed with the purpose of its message being read from the main traveled way, except as set forth in subsection C.

According to Albemarle County’s August 3, 2005 staff report:

VDOT has authority to remove all the signs from the right of way, recover the costs of this removal and to impose a $100 civil fine for each sign.  There is a rebuttable presumption that the sign was placed by the entity the sign advertises.  This presumption allows VDOT to prosecute in a civil process without having to catch the offenders in the act of placing the signs.  The local VDOT office does not aggressively seek costs or fines for these violations and believes the effort required to collect these costs and fines would often exceed the amounts that could be collected.

Faced with this reality in 2005, Albemarle County tested a pilot program designed to determine if an enforcement effort by the county coupled with a public education campaign could impact the number of illegal signs placed in the VDOT right of way. 

According to the February 1, 2006 staff report, this pilot program, of just 2 roadways US 29 and Route 250 had mixed reviews and generated significant costs.

The resources required for the 5 sign sweeps and the follow up contact were significant.  Approximately 115 staff hours were dedicated to this pilot program, the majority of which was paid at time-and-a-half.  It is estimated that the program cost just over $3,960, or $790 per sweep.  The response to our follow up letter sent to the potential violators was overwhelmingly negative, and consumed a significant amount of staff time during regular work hours when calls were received.  Multiple callers stated that the program was not a good use of taxpayer’s money. Callers also pointed out that the County places its public notice signs in the public right-of-way. [emphasis added-nw]

Staff also highlighted the additional demand on staff time would likely preclude maintaining their current level of service with their current staff level.

So in 2006 when presented with this conundrum that the removal of such signs would likely cost more than it would generate Albemarle County chose not to move forward with implementing this plan. 

Last month a new idea came forward, Road Sign Bounty Hunters.  Supervisors discussed the possibility of splitting the civil penalty $25/$75 with VDOT and then Albemarle could pay private individuals $25 per sign presented.  Supervisor Thomas thought VDOT might want to look at this enforcement actiona as a new revenue source in these dollar strapped times.

The idea generated a great deal of discussion but does not appear in the Board Action noted from the meeting.  It remains to be seen if this discussion will ever go any further.  My notes indicate it was left that Allen Sumptner from VDOT would get back to the Board on the Sign Bounty Hunter concept.

While The Free Enterprise Forum does not condone any illegal activity, we do question the level of priority road sign enforcement is being given considering the many other important issues Albemarle County is facing.  If this is the top priority for Albemarle County, the enforcement should be conducted in a professional manner by Albemarle County staff (at a huge cost to the taxpayers).  To offer a reward for every torn cardboard box that reads “Garage Sale 8-?” is a recipe for disaster and does little to improve the fabric of the community.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson






Free Enterprise Forum Questions Ability to Construct 29 Interchange

An independent engineering analysis, commissioned by The Free Enterprise Forum and conducted by former VDOT Chief Engineer Jack Hodge, questioned the feasibility of the proposed interchange at Rio Road and US Route 29.  The Places 29 master plan calls for the construction of five interchanges along the North 29 corridor. These interchanges form the backbone of the transportation portion of the Places 29 planning initiative. As a critical component of the Federal Primary Aid Route system, the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) must approve any detour around US 29 while the interchanges are being constructed.  The report asserts that based on the current design neither organization will allow construction to move forward.
To read the content of the report and the press release issued by the forum, please click here.