Tag Archives: Route29solutions

Sayonara Shucet

By. Neil Williamson, President

Shucet - Photo Credit CvillepediaLate yesterday afternoon (3/30), the embattled Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) named former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Philip Shucet as their new Chief Executive Officer.

Shucet has most recently served as a consultant to VDOT as a facilitator and problem solver for challenging projects including the Route 29 Solutions panels.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said in the ERC News Release:

I know Philip personally and am confident he is the right man for the job.

It does not appear everyone in the Transportation Department was as prepared for Shucet’s sayonara as Secretary Layne.  According to VDOT’s Lou Hatter:

The Route 29 Solutions project team will work through VDOT Commissioner Kilpatrick’s office to develop a plan going forward.

While appreciative of the professionalism and speed of Route 29 solutions project management, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of the meeting tactics and lack of true public engagement offered by Shucet’s panel process.  In our 2014 post Shucet’s Charade – A Public Participation Illusion:

The Route 29 Advisory Panel is, perhaps unwittingly, playing a part in a masterfully orchestrated and expertly conducted illusion of public participation where the questions, concerns and opinions of panel members are being denied or actively dismissed. No votes are taken nor consensus measured. All the while the facilitator is complementing the panel for its incredible positive forward momentum.

In our three years of observation, we have grown to appreciate the charming manner in which Shucet manages (some might say manipulates) meetings and their outcomes.  His pioneering (for VDOT) of video streaming meetings promotes transparency but not participation.  By reviewing e-mails and phone calls received, Shucet can color the manner in which the complaint was made and how VDOT, or the contractor handled it.

As a facilitator extraordinaire, he has stayed true to the “Shucet Six” we first identified in 2014:

  1. Control who is in the group. The number of participants and their representative groups selected to provide appearance of balance of perspectives
  2. Control Content, Agenda and Release of Data Controlling when and where data is released allows the facilitator the opportunity to build “proper context”
  3. Reduce/Eliminate Outside Influences. By removing public comment from the meetings and accepting it only online, Shucet insulates the panel’s meetings from being distracted by a boisterous critic [AKA Citizen]
  4. Demurely Dominate Conversation. Shucet’s down home drawl, overzealous compliments and genteel demeanor seem to engage the entire panel in discussion while his voice is most often heard directing the conversation. In addition, strictly limiting the group meeting time to two hours also helps this technique succeed.
  5. Limit Decision Options. While the Route 29 Advisory Panel was supposedly provided nine options to consider in their first meeting, Shucet brought forward just four options to the second meeting as possibly moving forward based on the “Professional Judgment” [note the word opinion was not used] and screening of the Technical Team.
  6. No Voting and Don’t Ask for Consensus. After three years, how many votes have been taken? None. How many times has consensus been “tested”? Never. The closest is when Shucet indicated he saw a number of heads nodding.

None of this is news and it does not change the fact that Shucet has served in this role well.  Personally and professionally I consider Shucet to be an excellent public servant.  That being said, I also believe he and I see the role of the so called “advisory” panels differently.

This morning blogger Jim Bacon applauded Philip Shucet, Transportation’s First Responder:

Bacon’s bottom line: Most people working the interstices between the public and private sectors are usually looking to line their pockets by trading on their relationships. Philip Shucet is a different breed. Not to say that he hasn’t done well for himself as a businessman and consultant in recent years, but he could work anywhere in the country he chooses and probably make a lot more money. Fortunately for the commonwealth, Shucet, who lives in Virginia Beach, has chosen to dedicate much of his career to public service and tackling some of the biggest, stickiest transportation problems. We’re lucky to have him.

Recently, in a conversation with VDOT officials someone asked me if I believe the blue tourism oriented destination signs, that were offered to impacted US29 businesses made a difference during the Rio/US29 interchange construction.

I indicated that while the signs likely did not change anything significant, they were an important step to let the local businesses know VDOT was aware (and listening) to their very real concerns – perhaps such tepid tranquility is the overall goal of these panels as well.

How and who will replace Shucet in the facilitator role is the challenge for the future, for now we say Sayonara Shucet, we wish you fair winds and following seas.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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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: Cvillepedia

Ripping of the Rio GSI Band-Aid

By. Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

“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

US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Wayback MachineJumping into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC time machine, we travel to May, 2014 where  we find the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors over the top in support of businesses in the US29/Rio Road area as they discussed and voted in favor of moving the Route 29 Solutions forward:

Ms. [Diantha] McKeel commented that it’s the intent of this Board to make the businesses as strong as possible during this period of construction, and felt that it was critical for VDOT to work with the Board as it reaches out to businesses

Ms. [Liz] Palmer said she agreed, and stated that there were a number of business owners who stated their support for the package – and she felt it was extremely important that they start working with the business community as soon as possible.

Ms. [Jane] Dittmar added that they have a very attentive Board of Supervisors that would stand by the business community 100% as they go through the process to improve the roads in the community, and finally have the ability to attend to some other things with a full concentration – ACBOS Minutes 5/27/14 Emphasis added –nw

Fast forward eleven months and the tenor of the conversation at the June 3, 2015 meeting of the Board was decidedly different.  As the Board was discussing making what Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin called “an investment in the future”, Supervisors pushed back about spending any money on an “Open for Business” advertising campaign or even increased signage.

While he noted the Chamber of Commerce support, Supervisor Brad Sheffield questioned if business owners even cared about this issue as so few showed up for the meeting when it was being discussed. 

Supervisor Ken Boyd, long an opponent of the Rio Interchange, took a decidedly different approach to his opposition stating he felt this was the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) folly and they should pay for any marketing effort not the Albemarle County taxpayers.

Supervisor McKeel was very concerned about the potential precedent such an expenditure might create.  She stated:

I have to have a comfort level that we are being fair to all the businesses in Albemarle County

When pressed for a legal opinion regarding the precedent setting and fairness issue, County Attorney Larry Davis explained that the documents presented laid out a clear case and rationale for the Board’s decision, if they should so choose, to fund this expenditure.  He concluded by saying:

I’m comfortable with it

After a motion to fund the business assistance program fully failed (2-4), Chair Jane Dittmar (one of the two votes in favor) asked a decidedly pointed question of her fellow Board members:

Do you want to put any financial wherewithal on an open for business campaign?  If not we won’t discuss it any further

us 29 logoAfter this cajoling from the chair and some internal grumblings, there was a majority on the Board that was interested in seeing the specifics of a campaign before ruling out the “investment”

This brings us to this week’s meeting (7/1).  Staff has brought forward a combined marketing campaign that is designed to:

·      encourage customer loyalty and minimize disruption to impacted businesses and their employees

·      support the larger tourism industry in the County, as many of the visitors who support the County’s tourism destinations are from locations such as northern Virginia/Washington DC and travel to the area using Route 29 North.

·      protect tax revenues generated from the general business district along the Route 29 corridor

In addition to the marketing campaign, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce  has suggested a series of signs be erected as soon as possible to alert commuters of the enterprises that are and will remain “open for business”.  The concept is these signs be placed now and remain up during and a little after the construction period.

The Chamber even created a concept sign for the Board to consider.

chamber sign concept

Such a temporary set of signs, albeit redesigned, will certainly provide  US29 businesses with increased visibility during a difficult time.

Considering the import of this investment  issue and the importance of business in the North US29 corridor.  The question now is Will the Board put their money where their mouth is?

Sally Thomas photo credit Charlottesville TomorrowBased on their statements in the last meeting, I have my doubts but perhaps they will listen to former Supervisor Sally Thomas, a long time bypass opponent,  who also spoke at the May 27, 2014 BOS meeting regarding the  Route 29 solutions:

the Board [of Supervisors] also has the right to make businesses a priority, and encouraged them to learn from what’s just happened at McIntire in ensuring that local businesses are advertised and that alternative routes are provided, with VDOT giving them priority in their planning and engineering.  emphasis added – nw

As always, stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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: Jay Ward Productions, Charlottesville Tomorrow