Tag Archives: Shucet

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


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


Optimism or VDOT Optics on US29 Project Panel?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Even this full throated critic of the Richmond based US29 Projects Steam Roller can see signs of optimism from the latest Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) US29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) meeting.  It has yet to be seen if these optimistic indicators are indicative of true community engagement or merely a part of a multimedia VDOT charm offensive.  To be clear, no promises have been made and in the end these it may end up simply being window dressing but the Free Enterprise Forum chooses to be positive after attending the panel’s third meeting.

us-29-logo.jpgLed by facilitator (and former VDOT Commissioner) Philip Shucet the first two meetings featured long Shucet soliloquies regarding process, agenda item postponements and project goals. On Wednesday,  Albemarle County Supervisor Brad Sheffield Ken Boyd [Correction 09:55 8.11.14-nw]very publicly told Virginia  Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne that panel members did not feel as if they were being heard.

The latest meeting (8/7) started much the same fashion with the release of a very aggressive implementation schedule:

Rio Grade Separated Intersection
• Conceptual drawings:  Aug 28, 2014 PDAP Meeting
•MOT plan development: Mar – May 2015
•Utility relocation plans:  Mar – Apr 2015
•Grading plans:  Apr – May 2015
• Roadway and Bridge Reviews:  April – June – July 2015
• Approve Construction Plans: Aug 2015

[MOT = Maintenance of Traffic-NW]

After hearing the Rio Interchange schedule, the panel was then updated on the regarding the so called “Best Buy” ramp. Several panel members questioned why a project with 99% of the engineering completed could not be accelerated to minimize the overlap between these significant disruptions of US29.

As Sean Tubbs reported for Charlottesville Tomorrow in The Daily Progress:

Henry Weinschenk, a panelist who owns the Express Car Wash on U.S. 29, said he thought it was unrealistic that VDOT could finish the projects before October 2017, given that the Best Buy ramp has been in the planning stages for several years.

“I am somewhat concerned that these projects, which are not fully designed, are moving along at 100 mph,” Weinschenk said. “And this project, which is pretty much done and we know a lot about, it’s going slow. We have a contradiction going on here, and to get some credibility out of VDOT, we need the Best Buy ramp done by the end of 2015.”

Shucet, a very skilled facilitator, seemed interested in the concept and pushed the questions to VDOT technical team members in the room and promised to circle back to that issue in the next meeting.

A member of the panel also questioned what would happen if the bids come in significantly higher than VDOT had estimated.  The concern was that perhaps Rio would be completed and the other projects would be cancelled.  VDOT representatives suggested their estimates were very conservative and they had a high level of confidence.

Perhaps due to this high level of conservative estimation, another panel member asked about the design for Berkmar Extended. Currently contemplated as a two lane road, with a two lane bridge over the South Fork Rivanna River, the panel member asked if VDOT was being short sighted not building a four lane bridge.

Other panel members requested that a connection between Berkmar and  Ashwood Boulevard; or at least the acquisition of right of way.  Again, while making no promises Shucet asked the VDOT technical team to make note of the suggestion and come back to the group.

All told, nothing was promised, many items were pushed off to the August 28th meeting but the issues raised by the panel members seem to be headed toward further conversation.

The tenor and attitude of all participants in Thursday’s meeting was more positive and more solution focused.  The responsibility to keeping this forward momentum is shared by both the facilitation team and the panel members.

The VDOT multimedia charm offensive continued in Sunday’s (8/10) Daily Progress where Secretary Layne penned an opinion piece that reiterated a position he stated to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on Wednesday (and will likely say to City Council):

Although the panel was not unanimous in its support for all the projects, there was broad agreement that transportation improvements much move forward.  Doing nothing gets us nowhere.  We are living with the consequences of our inaction over the years.

It is too early to know if the US29 Projects glass is half empty or half full, but The Free Enterprise Forum choses to think positively. While we remain concerned of falling into the “Don’t Get Fooled Again” trap, perhaps in the end the panel will find The Rolling Stones 1969 hit as their anthem:

No, you can’t always get what you wantrolling stones
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need

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

The Who Has the Answer to New US29 Panel

By. Neil Williamson, President

pete-towsend-2_thumb.jpgIn 1971, long before the US29 Bypass was proposed, Pete Townshend wrote and his band The Who recorded a song that aptly captures the political reality of today’s US 29 transportation projects.  Don’t Get Fooled Again

Please let me explain.

Yesterday, (6/18) the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) endorsed the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Six Year Improvement Plan that included the “Shucet Solution” Package to US29.

In remarks before the CTB, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe cited the work of the US29 Advisory panel and suggested the result was a compromise where no one was entirely happy.  He highlighted the group’s transparency and opportunity for public participation.

While the Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the successful political word smithing, the fact is the so called “advisory” panel never voted on anything. This was, as we called it months ago, a charade.

McAuliffe’s remarks also touted the soon to be enacted House Bill 2 that requires prioritization of transportation projects.   Later in the same speech, he expressed how pleased he was that the US29 projects were in the plan and how he decided that this issue needed to be resolved.  Only the most informed would understand that if the US29 projects were not in the plan (and acted on prior to July 1) they would have to go through the prioritization process and would likely not get fully funded.

The timing, delivery and positioning of the US29 projects was expertly handled.pete 3

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me

The Shucet Charade was in fact so successful that there is going to be a second act.  Yesterday, we learned that Shucet will be staying on as the lead consultant for the “Project Delivery Advisory Panel”.

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Yesterday was the first we had heard of the US29 PDAP (yet another unwieldy government acronym), and like when we heard of the “US29 Solutions Advisor Panel” we are encouraged but this time based on our experience with the other “advisory” panel our joy is mixed with more than a sprinkling of trepidation.

To be fair, Shucet and I had a most positive conversation prior to the last meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  He is a highly capable executive who has significant political skills to focus individuals and groups on the deliverables he has been charged to achieve.

Therefore, it is the charge of those on all sides of the US29 issue incumbent on the community to better define those deliverables and the level of public input.

Will the citizenry and elected officials be actively engaged in setting the membership and the success parameters for the US29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel?

Or will the process, membership and predetermined outcomes be again be dictated by forces outside of the community?pete_townshend

Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

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

Photo Credits: Allgoodseats.com

Shucet Expressway Expertly Railroaded Through Albemarle

Comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors May 27th 2014, 6:00 pm

Madame Chair, Members of the Board, Mr. Foley and Mr. Davis,

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as President of the Free Enterprise Forum a local public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum has been a participant and a vocal critic of the Places29 Misplanning process.

image.pngTonight’s vote on the Shucet Solution is, as Mr. Shucet’s put it, a “first step”.

I agree with Mr. Shucet, his Expressway vote tonight will be remembered for forever changing the character and viability of Albemarle’s Main Street and Economic Engine.

Make no mistake, some businesses will relocate and recover, some will not.

Ask the long timers on lower State Street in Santa Barbara California which saw the only lights on US 101 removed in the early 1980s with an elevated highway cutting off Downtown from the Beach. After over twenty years of economic depression, their micro economy is finally booming again.

Linton Hall Interchange Under Construction

Ask the retailer in Gainesville who was not close enough to have his land taken by the Linton Hall interchange but has watched his weekly receipts dwindle to barely enough to cover the rent.

No government program can fix this.

The Shucet Expressway will cause some businesses to fail.

That is the fact.

Further, Mr. Shucet is channeling Monty Hall when he tells the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the choice is to endorse his solution (and all of his solution) by the end of Summer or lose the money to other deserving transportation projects in the Commonwealth.

With the City who has two of the five votes on the MPO already endorsing the concept, and VDOT representative duty bound to support it, the Shucet Expressway has been expertly railroaded through our community. And quite frankly, I am disappointed.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.


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