Tag Archives: us29

Greene PC Recommends Approval of US29 Rezoning

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

US29 North (Subject Parcel to the right)

US 29 North (Subject parcel to the right)

One of the larger Ruckersville tracts (16.404 acres) is seeking a rezone from A-1, Agriculture to B-3, Business. The potential buyers of the parcel that lies between two B-3 parcels on the east side of Route 29 just north of the parcel that has several businesses including Early & Powell law firm came to the August Greene County Planning Commission meeting to request the rezoning to expand the potential uses of the property.

Potential purchasers, Darrell & Brandon Payne, along with George Tennyson (the current owner) are looking to rezone the property to allow more business options.

County Planning Director Bart Svoboda reviewed the request with the commission explaining that the parcel has B-3 zoning on either side of the parcel and it sits opposite of Blue Ridge Café and the former Wayne Homes business. The rezoning would make the parcel more marketable as a commercial property and with the stream going down the middle of the property it probably isn’t as suitable for residential development.

Svoboda continued stating that the rezoning is supported by the Comprehensive Plan and that the proposed uses would have no impact on the school system. The applicant representative, engineer Justin Stimp, agreed that the stream going down the middle of the property presents design challenges but he feels that there can be commercial development along Route 29 west of the stream and then possibly storage units to the east of the stream with a roadway following the stream.

Stimp addressed the access to the parcel and felt that a right in / right out heading northbound would be acceptable at the beginning of the project since there is no current crossover. The possibility also exists to tie into Deane Road south of the parcel to have a crossover available to head southbound.

The hearing then was open to the public with one speaker, Matthew Woodson, addressing the commission.  Woodson has several interests in the parcel – he is part owner of the parcel to the south – Piedmont Commons – and he represents the seller of the property seeking rezoning. He definitely supports the rezoning and hopes that having more B-3, business property, will help development along the Route 29 corridor leading into Ruckersville. Commissioner Frank Morris asked about connecting the property requesting rezoning through his property (to connect to Deane Road) and Woodson was agreeable to the interconnectivity.

Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer asked Svoboda if there would be a need for water connectivity (the line runs on the west side of Route 29, the opposite side of the rezoning). Svoboda indicated that if an office with a restroom was constructed with the storage units (what this plan shows as the first development) then a hook up would be required.

The rezone request was approved 3-0 with Commissioners John McCloskey and Steven Kruskamp absent.  Willer explained to the applicant that the approval of the Planning Commission was a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and the Supervisors would review the request in the next few months.

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

Photo Credit: Google Street View

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The Route 29 Solutions Finish Line(s)

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

In a display of confidence and political expediency, then new Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe set an aggressive deadline for the Route29Solutions projects of October 30, 2017 (a week before the 2017 General Election).  In addition, the Commonwealth Transportation Board provided significant incentives to the contractors for completing projects ahead of the mandated schedule — it worked.

Rio/US29 GSI – OPEN 7/18/2016
US29 Widening – Scheduled Open June 30, 2017
Berkmar Extended – Schedule Open June 30, 2017
Traffic Signal Synchronization – Scheduled June 30, 2017
Hillsdale Drive Extended – Scheduled October 30, 2017

The Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) has been working with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the contractors throughout this fast paced design/build program.  The PDAP meetings, which are live streamed on the web, always receive project updates as well as information about business assistance programming.  The PDAP has initiated several refinements to the project.

In many ways, this set of projects has positively impacted the manner VDOT now delivers projects.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of the Rio Grade Separated Interchange plan and of many aspects of the Project Delivery Advisory Panel.  We have also been critical of the methodology of former panel facilitator Philip Shucet.  We have been and are supportive and appreciative of the many men and women who have worked so hard to put these important transportation projects ahead of schedule.

We hope our thoughtful, respectful opposition provided the opportunity to “sharpen the saw” and through our tough questions we have helped refine the process.  While we still see significant transportation infrastructure needs, we believe our community, and our Commonwealth are better off for this significant transportation investment.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

VDOT’s Green Route 29 Expressway

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

ILLUSTRATIVE AND FOR CONCEPTUAL PURPOSES ONLY INTENDED TO ILLUSTRATE BROAD CONCEPTS AND ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO REPRESENT POTENTIAL FUTURE DEVELOPMENT SCENARIOS [ALL CAPS IN ORIGINAL – nw]

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

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

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

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

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

But what does this have to do with Charlottesville?

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

US29 Over Hydraulic Concept:

Rt 29 at Hyrdraulic lower level plaza

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

Alternative B where US29 goes Under Hydraulic Road:

Rt 29 Hydraulic Upper Plaza

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

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

Park Bridge at Seminole and Rt 29

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

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

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

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

Significant philosophical questions remain on the table:

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

As usual, we have more questions than answers.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: VDOT Route 29 Solutions

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

VDOT Panel’s Pocahontas Problem

By. Neil Williamson, President

This Sunday’s (3/12) Daily Progress Editorial discusses “Beginning Anew on Hydraulic” painting a rather optimistic picture of the regulatory and political process planned to design, secure funding and build improvements to the Hydraulic and US29 intersection.

But the Editorial forgot Pocahontas.

Please let me explain.

Regular readers are aware of the Free Enterprise Forum’s position opposing the Rio/US29 grade separated interchange.  Despite that opposition, we have been impressed with the manner the project was completed.  Now the Daily Progress editorial board is comparing the Rio intersection process with Hydraulic:

And the process through which the Rio project was completed did, in fact, contribute to its success. That process can be replicated, regardless of what kind of engineering design it eventually produces.

In fact, it is being replicated. The meeting last week of state and community leaders follows the pattern used in the Rio project: A panel of local elected officials, business owners and citizens is meeting regularly to discuss the Hydraulic venture, provide input and help guide decision-making. Their involvement is aimed at ensuring that local interests are represented in the state’s drive to speed traffic through a congested bottleneck.

disney pocaThis is where Pocahontas lesson comes in:

What I love most about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice – The water’s always changing, always flowing

Just prior to the seating of the so called “29 Solutions” panel, there was significant state and federal dollars allocated and a contract awarded to a project (the western bypass) that had enjoyed (4-2) support from Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors and then Republican Governor Robert McDonnell. In November 2013 elections, the balance of power on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors shifted left and Democratic Governor Terrance McAuliffe was elected.  Then in February 2014, the project was effectively prohibited by a letter from the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Cvillepedia described the situation in the manner:

Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, convened a panel in the spring of 2014 to suggest alternatives for money that had been allocated by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

With the project [Western Bypass] presumed dead, former VDOT commissioner Philip Shucet has recommended alternate uses for at least $200 million that had been allocated to the bypass. The alternatives include $54 million to extend Berkmar Drive across the South Fork Rivanna River, an additional $10 million to further extend Hillsdale Drive Extended to Holiday Lane in Charlottesville, and $81 million to build a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and U.S. 29. The Commonwealth Transportation Board adopted a new six-year improvement program that included the projects at its meeting on June 18, 2014. [17] That meant the Western Bypass project was defunded. [5]

In addition, in a deft politically savvy move, McAuliffe required ALL the Route 29 “solutions” be completed by October 31, 2017 (coincidentally just prior to Election Day 2017).

The Pocahontas lesson that was not lost on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contract facilitator Philip Shucet.  In the first meeting of The Hydraulic Planning Advisory Panel last week, he highlighted that unlike the previous panel which was considering how to spend a pot of money already allocated to the district the project or projects would have to compete for limited transportation dollars via VDOT’s Smart Scale evaluation program in 2018.

Secretary Layne’s charge to the Hydraulic panel includes this concern as well as hinting at the potential political in fighting at an intersection that is 3/4 in the City of Charlottesville and 1/4 in Albemarle County:

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne’s charge to the Panel:

To provide general advice and input to the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board regarding future land use and mobility improvements in the general area near the Hydraulic Road and Rt. 29 intersection.

The Secretary understands that land use decisions are in the hands of the localities, but also emphasizes that decisions to submit a future Smart Scale application for state-funded transportation improvements are also in the hands of the localities.

The multi jurisdictional work (land use, design and funding) of Hydraulic Road will be significantly more involved than the challenges at Rio Road.  While we agree that the process will be informed by the work of Rio, we are also reminded that Pocahontas quote is actually derivative of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Not only is Hydraulic a very different intersection than Rio,the land use work ahead is different and the funding is nowhere near secure.

Yes the facilitator is the same, as are some of the panel members, but this multi-jurisdictional land use and transportation effort will be a VERY different process and the outcomes (and their timing) are far from certain.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: Disney

Greene PC Recommends Approval of Church Office At US29/33

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image003At their January meeting the Greene County  heard a request for a special use permit (SUP #15-009)  to allow the northwest corner of Route 29 and Route 33 to “have meeting places for clubs, fraternal and civic organizations” as listed in Article 4-1-2-15 where the Music Store was formerly located.

Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda reviewed the request for the parcel that is oddly zoned A-1, Agricultural, even though it is on the busiest corner in Greene County. Since the parcel is not zoned business like the clip_image002other three corners, it requires a Special Use Permit in order to allow a church to have an office locate in the two story building on the corner.

While the SUP request is for the 2.41 acres, the Legacy Church (who wants to rent the building as an office) is only looking to use the building where the Music Store was formerly located.

Svoboda went on to explain that the parcel is an odd “L” shape and the building is on the narrow portion of the lot that touches the northwest corner in Ruckersville. The larger portion of the lot continues up Route 29 north and in behind the Greene House Shops and the Jack Shops Restaurant. And he clarified that he recommends that the SUP only be for the two story building, not the motel rooms running up US29 north.

Commissiclip_image006oner Vic Schaff asked Svoboda that if the property were to rezoned to B-1, would the use being requested tonight be changed to a by right use. Svoboda agreed and stated that the SUP would then be void.

Ken Lawson from Grandview Real Estate Services addressed the commissioner and addressed only an issue brought up by the Health Department. The Health Department expressed concerns about the use of the septic system but Lawson clarified that the use is only for the “Music Store” and not the motel rooms. Lawson further clarified he contacted the Health Department and clarified this issue with them and they revised their report to have no problem with using the current septic system that the Music Store used as there would be similar demand on the system.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Lawson if there were any plans to use the motel rooms in the future and he said they did not plan on using the rooms. He further explained that the owners plan on selling the property but wanted to acquire the SUP to get a tenant in the short term.

Commission John McCloskey asked if the church would hook up to the county sewer system. Lawson stated that while they could hook up with a connection line to the pump station, the less expensive option is to use the existing septic system which is their plan.

Willer asked Svoboda if a developer bought the property and built a new structure would they be required to hook up to the septic system and the answer was yes. Svoboda went on to say that the county hopes the parcel is rezoned to business which would increase the uses allowed.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the SUP request and the request will go to the Board of Supervisors for their decision. The question that remains is why is this parcel still zoned Agricultural instead of Business?

The argument goes both ways: leaving it Agricultural is less expensive to request a SUP than to have the property rezoned Business. However, many potential buyers may be attracted to a parcel that is zoned for business and that is what the county wants on the land.  This is one of many commercial looking properties that are on Agricultural land in Greene County.

The real issue is the odd shape of the parcel – the “L” shape significantly limits what can be built on the narrow portion that touches the corner of Route 29/33. Would the Greene House Shops/Jack Shop Restaurant lot, which lies to the west of the parcel, be able to use the corner piece of the property for parking?

Hopefully, a long term solution can be found for this property that meets Greene County’s and the property owner’s long term objectives for this important corner of Ruckersville.

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

Albemarle Economy Weathers the US29/Rio GSI Storm?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The early economic indicators are in.  While there are limitations in the initial data set, it looks like the significant efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) may have worked as designed.

Please let me explain our logic.

Back in 2007, Free Enterprise Forum Research Associate Natasha Sienitsky authored the Workplace 29 report that found:

The Workplace 29 study area:
• supports more than 20,000 jobs, conservatively providing more than $800 million ($874,216,408) alone in direct salaries each year.
• generates 35% of taxes by all non-residential uses in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville; approximately $ 33,019,354 in total tax revenue paid to Albemarle County and Charlottesville City in 2006.
• provides per acre tax revenue of $24,700 for non-residential uses, compared to the entire county average of $335 per acre.
•produces approximately 45% of the county’s total tax revenue in 2006.

In addition to the above economic impacts it was determined that the Workplace29 study area generated 57% of all of Albemarle’s sales tax income.  Considering this was prior to the construction of Stonefield, Costco, and several other retail establishments it is not a reach to suggest that number has remained steady.

The conclusion of Workplace 29 stated:

Non-residential uses in Workplace 29 generate significant jobs and taxes for Albemarle County. The master planning process must continue to engage owners of these properties as the economic vitality and level of government service in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City have a close relationship to revenues generated by non-residential properties in the Workplace 29 area. The current Places 29 plan calls for a reconfiguration of the road network which will cause significant business disruptions along US Route 29 during an extended construction period. Neither the extent nor time frame of disruptions has been addressed.

Although changes in the character of US Route 29 may have long term economic benefits, short term disruptions, through extended construction periods, most likely would negatively impact business and as a result the revenue stream for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the impact of master plan formulation and implementation on business.

Our 2007 hypothesis does not hold up based on recently released 2016 economic data.

Book1The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce regularly reports regional sales tax data.  Their reports provide both updates as well as historical sales tax data.

The report last week, for all of Albemarle County, indicated sales tax revenue for the first half of 2016 was up over 2015 by greater than $495,000 (+7.25%).

Considering the significant disruption to the corridor including the closure of the intersection from May 23 – July 18, 2016 [opening date corrected 12:50 8/29-nw], one must conclude the intense marketing efforts, signage and business assistance efforts had an impact.

Back in March [in our Lemonade Post], we mentioned our appreciation for the marketing efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) as well as Albemarle County.

With these early returns, it seems their mitigation efforts, which continue today, are having the intended results.  While we continue to witness economic dislocation (Better Living, PJ Networks, Sultan Kabob), much of this dislocation may have occurred with or without the new GSI.

As Albemarle prepares to produce a small area plan for the US29/Rio area, they would be wise to attempt to capture intersection specific economic data to confirm our conclusions based on county wide data.

We have not yet seen the July numbers but considering the trend for the first six months, I anticipate they will continue to be slightly ahead of 2015.

Absent a more detailed metric, I believe it would be appropriate to congratulate all the businesses involved for weathering a difficult storm; and to congratulate the speedy construction, all of the marketing and business outreach teams for a job well done.

As for our failed 2007 hypothesis, I am happy to have been wrong but one might wonder what the numbers would look like with a longer construction period and absent the unprecedented outreach efforts.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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

 

C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

By. Neil Williamson, President

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

As a part of the “six fixes” presentation Werner included #5

6) Widen the section of Rt. 29after Hol lymead Town Center       to fix the bottle neck,   & improve the intersection at  ...

Well, not so fast.

Even with all this Charlottesville seems ready to pull a Hydraulic Houdini to make the project disappear.

Last week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s lack of excitement regarding a possible small area plan for the intersection:

“I believe that, compared to the other small-area plans, this would be least prioritized,” commission Chairman John Santoski said. “I don’t think we want to invest a lot of time and energy in a small-area plan here when we have other places that we know need the attention.”

It is interesting contract considering Tubbs’ May 20, 2014 dispatch just prior to the MPO endorsement of Route 29 Solutions:

The Charlottesville City Council informally has endorsed a $203 million package of transportation projects to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29, including $10 million to begin plans for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road.

“It is a major connecting piece for the whole network and I think we don’t want to make it seem like it’s not a high priority even though it is further down in the pipeline,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

The idea of the Hydraulic Houdini appeared in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of last week’s Charlottesville PC field trip:

The Virginia Department of Transportation currently has allocated $10 million each for study of a future grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That money is not available until 2019, and it is possible a future administration could reprogram the funds to other projects or other years.[Emphasis added-nw]

So what has changed? 

Where are the supporters with their “Real Solutions Now” placards as the City performs the Hydraulic Houdini?

Could it be now that property is being sold and the Western Bypass is beyond resuscitation, the goal has been met?

While we have steadfastly opposed the Expressway [even calling for a veto of Places29 (which passed unanimously)] we are shocked to see the “solutions” proponents so quickly abandon one of their pillars.

Perhaps now, in hindsight,  we see the “integrated” transportation plan for what it really was — not an innovative effort to improve US29 congestion but a savvy political alternative to eliminate three stop lights and, more importantly,  derail any bypass for at least a generation.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:  Piedmont Environmental Council

Albemarle and VDOT Create US29+Rio Lemonade

By. Neil Williamson, President

While the Free Enterprise Forum lost the battle against the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI), we have found Albemarle County (and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)) to be working exceedingly well together and significantly positively impacting the challenging business environment due to the roadway construction.

In the most recent Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel meeting, former VDOT Commissioner and PDAP facilitator Philip Shucet indicated the next phase of the Rio GSI project, where the intersection will close for up to 103 days,  “Isn’t going to be a birthday party”.  This might be the understatement of the year.

The closure of the intersection (right turns will still be permitted) will have an impact on businesses in the area.  A little over a year ago the Free Enterprise Forum asked a simple question regarding the business assistance program for US29 Rio Grade Separated Interchange:  US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

In short, VDOT and Albemarle have answered the call to make lemonade out of the challenging construction period.

The get around guide produced by VDOT (and printed locally) is quite good and available at local merchants.

An illustrated map of the Route 29 corridor.

Beyond being a helpful tool, these are not being handed out by a team of interns that do not know how to answer business owner questions.  VDOT Communications Director Lou Hatter is personally delivering these maps to retailers, hoteliers in the impacted footprint.

VDOT also has print, radio and television advertisements running in significant rotation, letting people know that the intersection will be closed but access to all businesses and neighborhoods will be maintained.

Rio 29 logoConcurrent, and coordinated with VDOT’s informational efforts, Albemarle County, working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is running radio, television, and print advertisements focused on the businesses in the Rio and 29 footprint.  The message that Route 29 is “Open for Business” during construction at Rio Road.

To be clear, The Free Enterprise Forum fought the Rio GSI because it is either the addition of a 2 inch pipe on a 1/2 inch line or it is the first step toward an expressway that will divide the community.  We lost that fight.

US29 Rio April 29 2016VDOT is taking a “tear the band aid off” approach to the construction plans for Rio GSI getting as much done as quickly as possible.  The contractor’s current trajectory seems to have the project reopening to daytime traffic on or before August 5 (and earning the contractor a $6.8 Million incentive).

Today, we are appreciative that Albemarle County and VDOT were good to their word in supporting the businesses that are most impacted by the construction.

We still believe there will be significant economic dislocation of some businesses (ie: Better Living), we also believe the combined efforts of VDOT and Albemarle County significant business outreach, advertising and communication efforts may soften the negative impacts.

I like lemonade.

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

US29 Business Assistance – What Are You Willing To Do?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, July 1, 2015

Good Afternoon. My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government.

I understand you received an e-mail from my associate, Tim Hulbert of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. Tim can’t be here for public comment due to a previously scheduled medical appointment but does hope to join you later this afternoon when you are discussing the US29 Business survival program.

In a blog post yesterday, I highlighted the many expressions of support this board has provided to potentially impacted businesses throughout the Route 29 Solutions approval process.

According to the approved minutes of the May 27th 2014 meeting:

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

I am a big Sean Connery fan. Considering his many memorable roles, it is hard to believe he  only won a single Academy Award. He won as Best Supporting Actor for his role as veteran patrolman Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables.

sean-connery-as-jim-malone-in-the-untouchablesIn one of the best scenes in the movie, Malone confronts Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner and asks, “ You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?

Ness replies: “Anything within the law.”

Considering the broad support this board has indicated it would provide to the businesses impacted by the construction of the Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange and the modest plan your professional staff has created to mitigate some of the business interruption, I have just one question.

What are you willing to do?

Your answer will speak volumes.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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