Tag Archives: US 29

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


Greene PC Approves Business in Ruckersville

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

With several parcels changing uses near the intersection of US29 and Route 33, several Ruckersville enterprises are on the move.

Melissa Andrusczyk, who operates a business on the southeast corner of Routes 33 and 29 in Ruckersville, approached the Greene County  Planning Commission on Wednesday, July 15 seeking approval of a special use permit to open another business just west of Ruckersville on Route 33.

clip_image002The new facility, located at 14343 Spotswood Trail, has recently been vacated by a church presenting the opportunity for Andrysczk to open Ruckersville Rummage in the existing building.

Bart Svoboda, Director/Zoning Administrator presented the request to the Planning Commission  explaining that VDOT felt no additional parking would be needed as well as no upgrades. The structure is just west of a crossover near Creative Press and the Ruckersville Fire Department so that customers wanting to travel east would have to exit westbound and take the next crossover to head east on Route 33. The Health Department also had no concerns related to the new business.

clip_image004The plot is located in the A-1 district (County Tax Map 60B-(A)-2) and the Comprehensive Plan supports economic growth in this area of the county. That area of the county has approximately a 20/80 split between business vs. residential currently. Staff recommends approval since it keeps the character of the area the same and no outside storage or flea market would be allowed with the special use permit.

Commissioner Frank Morris, At Large Member, questioned if any display of product for sale or advertisement would be needed since no outside tables would be allowed. Andrysczyk asked if some product could be displayed to advertise the business and that it would be brought inside nightly.

Svoboda stated that any outside display is prohibited unless specifically allowed by the commission. He asked that the commission define a measurable/enforceable distance/area or totally strike the display restriction.

The Planning Commission discussed various boundary limits for the display and finally decided not to limit the display of product with the assumption that parking requirements would limit where product could be displayed. Commissioner Eva Young made a motion to approve the SUP with the only provision being that no outside sales be allowed and motion was passed unanimously.

Note: The current location of Ruckersville Rummage that is operated on the southeast corner of Routes 29 and 33 has had plans approved to develop the parcel.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Misinformation, Compartmentalization and Realization on the US29 “Expressway”

By. Neil Williamson, President

Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of accusations of truths, half truths, and outright distortions of truth regarding the US29 Solutions Package and the overall plan for US29.

The Free Enterprise Forum shares the frustration of others in the community including the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) regarding misinformation.

Facts, modeling and statistics, even when used in rhetorical analysis, should be both sourced and transparent so the reader can determine the validity of the argument.   As an organization we will continue to strive for such transparency in our work.

On Twitter earlier this month Former VDOT Commissioner and current Route 29 Solutions facilitator Philip Shucet wrote about the concern of a US29 Expressway:

Philip Shucet @PhilipShucet ·  Nov 5

Fact: There is no Rt. 29 Expressway in the making. No secret plans. No hidden agenda. Just some smart #rt29solutions at work.

0 replies 2 retweets 2 favorites

On Twitter, I queried Shucet about the $10,000,000 dedicated to preliminary engineering on the Hydraulic interchange; clearly this was an indication of the Commonwealth’s interest in building it.  His reply:

@NeilSWilliamson Good point. No preset intention either way. If study results are to go forward, then must go to MPO, HB2 priority process.

Shucet is a stand up guy who works hard to to keep his direct charge, the so called Route 29 Solutions, on track.

The Route 29 Solutions webpage [a great resource for up to date project details] lists each of the specific projects under this umbrella:

Route 29 Solutions Projects:

29/250 Ramp
Rt. 29 Widening
Berkmar Extension
Adaptive Signals
Hillsdale Extended
Hydraulic/29 Study
Hillsdale South

By compartmentalizing his work to the list above, Shucet can accurately say that “There is no Rt. 29 Expressway in the making.  No secret plans”.  However if one digs further into the approved planning documents a different picture, or pictures, emerge.

In August, when Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne spoke to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding the US29 Solutions, he said, “Again, I want to emphasize these (projects) are not the end of the solutions; but they are a good start.  I believe in an incremental approach”Click here for the podcast [quote is at 18:24].

Back during the Western bypass discussion, Piedmont Environmental Council Field Officer Jeff Werner produced a slide show of sketches to show the problem on  US 29.

jeff's sketch 1

The solutions proposed in his sketch slide show included most of the Route 29 solutions package as well as a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic:

jeff sketch hydraulic interchange

Not to be left out of the discussion, our friends at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) joined with PEC in producing a video rendering of the proposed solutions including how an interchange at Hydraulic would work:

SELC vision for Hydraulic

These ideas did not come out of thin air — All of this is actually part of the Places29 master plan for the region.

The Places29 Plan calls for 8 “Major Intersection Improvements” within the US 29 Corridor.  These improvements will be designed by those in power when funds are available but based on all of the above, we see a tendency to move toward grade separated interchanges.

The Free Enterprise Forum was critical of this plan throughout the development and spoke out in vocal opposition to the plan when it was presented for final approval.  The plan was approved unanimously.

I am not sure what most people mean when they use the term expressway.  I tend to think of a limited access road with few if any lights or other potential vehicular conflicts.

In looking at the picture below from the Places29 plan [figure 14.18], and the one above from SELC, I wonder what most readers would call these roads?


Former Secretary Shucet is right there is no secret expressway planned for US29 and his Route29 Solutions work, while a part of the overall plan, is not gong to build the “expressway” immediately.

Whether you call the new transportation network an expressway, a boulevard or “Fred”, what is planned is not a secret at all — it is all a part of the Places29 Master Plan and it always has been.

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

Photo Credits:

Piedmont Environmental Council www.pecva.org accessed 11/10/2014

Southern Environmental Law Center www.selc.org accessed 11/10/2014

Albemarle County Places29 Master Plan

UVA Survey Finds Majority Support Western Bypass

us-29-logo_thumb.jpg Editor’s note – The timing of any media release is important.  The following media release was transmitted on a Friday afternoon prior to the three day Martin Luther King Holiday weekend. – NW

Posted: Jan 17, 2014 12:47 PM EST Updated: Jan 17, 2014 1:12 PM EST

University of Virginia Press Release

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Jan. 17, 2014  A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass, according to the Jefferson Area Community Survey just completed by the University of Virginia Center for Survey Research.

Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.

Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent).

The survey was conducted by telephone from late November to mid-January and included more than 900 respondents representing the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties. All of the interviews took place after the Nov. 5 elections, in which three new representatives were elected to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, all of whom have taken positions against the Western Bypass.

Although a majority of residents is still in favor of a U.S. 29 bypass, there has been a modest but significant decrease in support since we last asked about this issue two years ago, said Tom Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research. In our January 2012 survey, 69 percent said a bypass is needed, compared to 62 percent right now.

By far the strongest predictor of opinion on these road issues is political views, he added.

The survey shows that, among those with an opinion, a slight majority of those who identify themselves as liberals oppose the Western Bypass (47.5 percent in favor, 52.5 percent opposed) in sharp contrast to conservatives (81 percent in favor) and moderates (63 percent in favor). Party identification mirrors this ideological divide, with favorable opinions toward the Western Bypass expressed by 86 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and a bare majority (52 percent) of Democrats.

There are geographic differences in views of the Western Bypass. Among those who had an opinion, about 58 percent of Charlottesville and Albemarle residents favor the road’s construction, while 84 percent of Louisa County residents favor it. Education has an affect as well: Respondents who hold advanced degrees are less favorable than others (55 percent for the Western Bypass, 45 percent against).

The survey also asked respondents if they consider traffic congestion on U.S. Route 29 going through the Charlottesville area to be “a major problem, a minor problem, not too much of a problem, or not a problem at all. Forty-nine percent of all respondents said this is a major problem. That represents little change from opinion in January 2012, when 52 percent said traffic on the road was a major” problem.

Not surprisingly, people who think traffic is a major problem on Route 29 are more likely to say a bypass is needed (87 percent of those with an opinion) and more likely to favor construction of the Western Bypass (81 percent).

“Of course, we don’t use referendums to decide where to build our roads,  Guterbock said. But if the Western Bypass were put to a vote today across our region, it would very likely have enough popular support to win approval. Nevertheless, the two political parties would probably take opposite sides of the issue, as we are seeing in the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.”

The Jefferson Area Community Survey is a regional omnibus survey carried out twice a year, reaching adults across the region via landline and cellular phones. The survey is supported financially by government agencies, nonprofits and University researchers who place questions on the survey.

Questions about the bypass issue are unsponsored questions that were included in the survey by the Center for Survey Research for their public interest value. With 904 interviews completed between Nov. 21 and Jan. 10, the survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

‘A Very Merry Unbirthday’

By. Neil Williamson, President

mad-hatter-1-300x240Yesterday’s (6/6) discussion of the approved US29 Western Bypass at the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting  looked more like Allison in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party than local governance.

The meeting opened with a large number of speakers (including this writer) sharing their thoughts about the Western Bypass project, under the “other matters from the public” portion of the meeting.  BOS Chair Ann Mallek (D-White Hall) (who has consistently been opposed to the project) made a motion to that the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors officially support the Western Bypass.  Her motion of support was seconded by Supervisor Christopher Dumler (D-Scottsville). 

Supervisor Ken Boyd (R-Rivanna) indicated he thought the 4-2 vote by the previous Board of Supervisors was indicative of Board policy on this issue and that a majority vote was needed to reconsider the decision.  Mallek countered that her motion was about this specific project and this Board had not voted on this specific proposal. 

County Attorney Larry Davis, in his new role as BOS referee determined the motion on the floor was different from the motion that was voted on last July and did not require a majority to consider.

In discussing the motion, Supervisor Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) questioned the chair motives regarding the phrasing of the motion.  Charlottesville Tomorrow’s story in this morning’s Daily Progress includes the following quote:

“By having this motion put forward and then having it defeated, they hope they will tie the hands of us going forward because by the negative vote they hope to kill the bypass,” Snow said.

When the vote came forward, to no one’s surprise, it was deadlocked three to three with Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) joining the Chair and Dumler in voting against the motion they brought forward.

Then sensing parliamentary positioning, Boyd made a motion (that he indicated he would be voting against) to direct the Board’s representatives on the Metropolitan Planning Organization not to support the Western Bypass.

In discussion, Rooker argued that Boyd’s motion was a new topic that was not announced and should wait to be placed on another agenda.  Boyd countered that the motion was directly related to the agenda item.  In this instance, Referee Davis sided with Boyd and the motion moved forward.

Boyd’s motion also failed on a 3-3 vote.

In a post last year, we explained the importance of counting to four in order to get anything accomplished by Albemarle’s six member Board of Supervisors.

A summary of yesterday’s activities:  bypass opponents made a motion to support the project that they then voted against; bypass supporters made a motion not to support the project that they then voted against.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes each of the motionAlice_in_Wonderlands were  politically motivated parliamentary pirouettes that never had a chance  of garnering a fourth vote.

As Alice said in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass :

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Image Credit: Walt Disney

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

US 29 Bypass — It’s About Time

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

[Emphasis added – nw]

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

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

[Emphasis added – nw]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

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






Planning Priorities Postpone Places29

In an effort to put the best face on yet one more delay in the Master Planning Process for the North U.S. 29 Corridor known as Places29, Outgoing Director of The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commision Harrison Rue and Albemarle Planner Judy Wiegand are quoted in Sunday’s Daily Progress stating the project is extremely complex, more so than any other planning done in Virginia, that’s why it’s running behind. {emphasis added}

For those of you just tuning in, this process was started with great fanfare as a joint VDOT/Albemarle County Planning Project, a national model linking land use and transportation together.  With a combined budget in excess of $1.2 million dollars.  Officially launched with an aptly named Citizen Academy in May of 2005.  The project just celebrated its third birthday by missing yet one more deadline.

The plan has not had significant public work since the August 2007 release of Chapter Five.  Despite the fact that the Places29 plan still lacks an implementation plan, the latest estimates have the Albemarle County Planning Commission reviewing the plan in the late summer/fall with the Board of Supervisors weighing in by November or December.  If previous performance is any indicator, I would be very surprised to see The Board of Supervisors start their review of the project until well into 2009. 

Master plans are designed to be reviewed every five years not take five years for construction.  Even more troubling is the lack of detail available in the five chapters that have been drafted.  Areas of significant concern have, rather than addressed, been selected for future small area plans.  Such powerful thinking will keep at least a generation of Albemarle County planners employed for the foreseeable future.

In an effort to provide context to the Places29 project, the Free Enterprise Forum has published two studies WorkPlace 29 and the Rio/US29 Intersection study.   Rather than embrace someone doing something on Places29 these reports have been dismissed by those internal to the Places29 planning process.

Considering the hours of meetings and group think workshops that have been put on by the planners and consultants on this project, citizens have a right to be upset at the lack of any real progress in the last year.  By selecting themselves as the steering committee for the project, the Albemarle County Planning Commission, must shoulder a lion’s share of the responsibility for missing yet one more deadline. 

The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes The Albemarle County Planning Staff has been understaffed for some time and management have pulled planners from projects such as Places29 to meet other more important planning priorities. 

In private industry, if such a 1.2 million dollar project were this far behind and significant milestones missed, project managers and their steering committee would face significant penalties including project, manager and steering committee termination. 

In public policy, no such accountability exists.