Tag Archives: western bypass

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

By Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

In their own words –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

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Is This The End of The Road?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In July 2011, after the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted 3-2 to move forward with the Western Bypass, I wrote a post that quoted Sir Winston Churchill that this was not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning.  The results of today’s (3/19) Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting provide a fitting bookend as it now looks like the beginning of the end of the Western Bypass.

The audience in the Richmond auditorium featured many familiar faces from Albemarle and Charlottesville including four members of the Board of Supervisors as well as Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley.  [Considering it was a transportation meeting, I wonder if we should have done a better job car pooling-NW]

Last month, Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne selected former VDOT Commissioner Phillip Schucet to facilitate a short term Advisory Panel to evaluate what to do about the congestion issues on US29.  The very specific charge for the advisory panel requires the process to be transparent and to work with in the economic constraints of the $200 Million dollars the CTB already allocated to the Western Bypass.  In addition, any solution, or package of solutions, must be able to be constructed (or significant progress accomplished) in the three and a half years left in the current administration.  Layne was also clear in the charge that doing nothing was not an option.  The results of the group’s work are scheduled to be presented at the May 14th meeting of the CTB.

One CTB member, Mark Peake of Lynchburg asked the question directly, “Would this group consider any bypass solutions?”.  Schucet answered the question directly “No”.

Another CTB member, William Fralin of Salem asked the Secretary if the bypass was abandoned and the land sold back would those funds be available to the US29 Corridor in addition to the $200 Million?  Layne was appropriately deferential indicating that decision could not be made until the recommendation came forward and any funds to be reprogrammed would be a decision for the CTB.

Aubrey Layne photo credit VDOT

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne

The advisory panel composition was a concern for CTB member Alison DeTuncq of Charlottesville who questioned why Greene County, Culpeper County and other localities were not included in the panel.  [The Free Enterprise Forum did find the inclusion of the Southern Environmental Law Center interesting] Schucet indicated that there were a number of conversations regarding the number of people to be on the panel.  At one point it was five at another twenty.  He believed the size was now appropriate.  Layne indicated these were the localities that had been most engaged in the conversations thus far.

So the question remains.  ‘Is this the end of the road?’

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) February 18th letter indicated the twenty years of delay brought the original scope and purpose of the road into question.  The charge to the advisory panel has eliminated the consideration of any bypass at this time. 

My friend, and longtime bypass opponent, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council was quoted on Twitter this week saying  that he would believe the Western Bypass is dead when the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) sells back the right of way.  I tend to agree this will be an instructive and rather objective metric. 

Considering the Advisory Panel’s prescriptive charge and the tenor of the CTB’s discussion this afternoon in Richmond, if this is not the end of the road, it is in sight.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

Photo Credit: VDOT

Albemarle Arrogance on US29

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

directional question signPrior to determining what transportation solution to implement on US29, the community, state and federal government must determine exactly what problem they are trying to solve. Unfortunately,the Free Enterprise Forum continues to see a vocal minority expressing a self centered circular argument that precludes productive dialog.

Please let me explain.

The February 18th letter from The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) changed the conversation paradigm from the approved and funded bypass versus anything else to everything is now on the table.

But the question remains, what is the problem the project is seeking to solve?

Alice-Falling-Down-the-Rabbit-HoleLewis Carroll captured this concept in his famous tome Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Throughout the 5 hour public hearing at the Albemarle Board of Supervisors last month, speakers mentioned that the bypass is a misnomer and needs to be significantly longer.  The Free Enterprise Forum wrote about this concept in September US29 Bypass Extension is too short and too long.

The question raised by the FHWA letter is one of “purpose and need”.  The feds believe this road was properly designed for a time that has passed.  The letter also suggests that VDOT should get significant buy in from the community to any solution proposed.

To gain community consensus, the Free Enterprise Forum believes an objective set of metrics needs to be developed to evaluate ANY proposed solution.  The metrics discussion should happen now absent any concrete (pun intended) concept. Some of the metrics I have heard discussed include:

          • Cost/Return on Investment
          • Throughput Improvement (Corridor Travel time)
          • Congestion Improvement (how many hours at level of service  E or worse)
          • Preservation/Destruction of Rural Area
          • Water Quality
          • Economic Dislocation
          • Freight Capacity
          • Distance to Schools

us 29 logoSeemingly, there are some in the community that have little to no concern about the import of this National Highway and Federal Aid Route as it relates to the rest of the Commonwealth. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs article in Sunday’s Daily Progress included two direct quotes that clearly voiced this sentiment:

“I don’t think … I’m sitting here to worry about people from Lynchburg getting to Washington, D.C.,” said Places29 council member Cynthia Neff. “I’m worried about the growth area of the Albemarle community and how we move traffic through most effectively.”

“It’s obvious Virginia needs a third north-south interstate, but it ain’t U.S. 29,” Places29 Council Member and President of Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition George]  Larie said. “There are too many driveways.”

The Free Enterprise Forum has also learned that one person at the meeting heard a Places29 Council member member suggest under their breath “[explicative deleted] Lynchburg”.

It is interesting those generally described as Bypass Opponents, including Neff and Laurie, have little difficulty with the concept of accepting Federal funds (from all of the US) for transportation improvements as long as they are programmed for their myopic local improvements.  This “Albemarle Arrogance” suggests a lack of understanding of the word “Commonwealth” and undercuts the goals of VDOT.

Despite calls for the immediate sale of Western Bypass Right of Way,  Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) February meeting discussion of selling the right of way is premature because it would rule out a possible solution.

Interestingly, in the February meeting two CTB members indicated a willingness to accept the funds that had been dedicated for Charlottesville and reprogramming them to projects in their districts.  Again, Layne suggested such reprogramming of funds would be premature (but not out of the question).

Unfortunately, I believe Lewis Carroll correctly projected Albemarle County’s current transportation planning philosophy in Through the Looking Glass.

“Well, in out country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’dAlice_in_Wonderland generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

We eagerly await the March 19th CTB meeting where VDOT has been charged to present a laundry list of projects designed to address the concerns raised in the FHWA letter.  Whether any such projects might garner the required local support is an open question.  If not, there are plenty of other communities in the Commonwealth who are lining up for these Federal dollars.

If the funds are reprogrammed outside of Albemarle, no significant transportation improvements will likely be completed in the near term “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”.

Maybe that was the opposition’s goal after all.

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

Photo Credits: Pixabay, Walt Disney Company

VDOT Study Indicates US29 Bypass Will Reduce Travel Time Up to 22 Minutes a Day

By Neil Williamson, President

us-29-logo_thumb.jpgIn responding to a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by The Free Enterprise Forum, The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) released The US29 Travel Time Analysis with and without the Bypass in a study conducted by Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The recently released documents show that future commuters using the proposed US29 Western Bypass will save up to 22:30 minutes each day (11:30 Southbound, 11:00 Northbound) by utilizing the bypass.  In addition, the modeling shows a daily reduction of nearly 10 minutes on the existing US29 & US29/250 corridor due to the Bypass.

US 29 Bypass Travel Time Savings Chart December 2013 big

The stated purpose of the analysis is to estimate the potential time savings that the proposed project would offer to drivers utilizing both the existing US29 and the proposed Bypass as compared with a No Build scenario and no major improvements to the existing US 29.

The Executive Summary indicates:

The travel time study was conducted utilizing VISSIM, a micro-simulation model that uses traffic volumes and proposed roadway layout to estimate delays and travel times. The study estimated travel times on US 29 and US 250 between Ashwood Boulevard on the north and Leonard Sandridge Road at the southern terminus of the proposed Bypass. A comparison of travel times for the year 2040 with and without the Bypass was developed.

The VISSIM travel time analysis estimated 2040 travel time savings of approximately between 7½ minutes to 11½ minutes for vehicles using the proposed Bypass depending upon the direction of travel and peak period. In addition, the construction of the proposed Bypass provides reduced travel time for vehicles that continue to use the existing US 29 ranging from 1 to 2 minutes in the non-peak direction to between 3½ and 7 minutes in the peak direction.

The Technical Documents of the analysis make the case that the increased traffic volumes within the existing US 29 Corridor will result in the duration of congestion on US 29 increasing in the future.

US 29 Bypass LOS Chart December 2013 big

This new information is helpful but it begs many questions:

  • How much is 22 minutes a day worth to our community?
  • How will commuters use this new time?  Family, increased productivity, relaxation?
  • If one could put a dollar value on time, how much is this time savings worth?
  • If a vehicle (especially a tractor trailer) is operated 22 minutes less each day, can one quantify the net environmental benefit (or harm)?

The full December 19, 2013 report (and related documents) can be found on the Free Enterprise Forum website under the reports tab.

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.

Big Transportation Thinking on US 29 – Over, Under, or Around?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

100_1004What will US 29 look like in Albemarle and Charlottesville in 2070?

Will technological advances such as driverless cars that park themselves increase roadway and storage capacity?100_1003

Will the built environment drive the market or will the market drive the built environment?

Will light rail be part of the transportation solution?

The answer is both yes and no to all of the above – please let me explain

This past week, the Free Enterprise Forum was honored to participate in The University of Virginia’s Architecture School 2014 VORTEX focused on reimagining US 29.  We along with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Southern Environmental Law Center and City Councilor (and architect) Kathy Galvin took part in a kick off panel discussion moderated by Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow.

IMG_20140119_132101945

IMG_20140119_124346983

While the results of the VORTEX were fantastic (see drones delivering groceries) the concepts were pure and devoid of any fiscal, or in many cases technological, restraint.

Each of the 27 segments presented spent time defining the problem.  Most highlighted the challenge US 29 faces serving as a local road and a major transportation corridor.

100_0987As is rather typical for these university  events, there was the expected anti-automobile undertone with about half of the solutions relying on light rail to accommodate people moving [ironically, the parking lot outside the hosting Carver Recreation Center was as full as I have ever seen it].

IMG_20140119_133245816

Many of the presentations focused on the concept of the death of big box.  One presenter suggested “Route 29 would be reduced to 2 lanes with nature trails winding along the side with views of the ruined big box store husks”.  Others indicated significant societal changes would occur that would accelerate the demise of the sprawl.

While I was impressed a number of segments addressed the need for freight transport along the corridor and recognized the topographical challenges, none of the segments designed significantly considered the property rights issues that will be obstacles to implementation.

100_0990It is important to remember the students were seeking approval and recognition of their hard work from the faculty.  We believe some of the statement included in their presentations such as “Corridor of Consumption” and “Landfill to Landform” were designed to pique the interest of the visiting professors.  It is less than surprising when one competitor suggested making US29 “to the scale of the University”.

Interestingly just as the VORTEX teams were finalizing their projects, The University of Virginia Center for Survey Research released the results of their annual Jefferson Area Survey which indicated:

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

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). [Emphasis Added-NW]

The results of this survey closely mirror the 2004 Mason-Dixon conducted survey commissioned by the Free Enterprise Forum.

The US29 problem is well understood by the students, who walked the five miles of US29 from the University to the Rivanna River, as well as the residents in the survey.  There is a need to reduce the traffic volume on US29. 

Blade RUnnerWhile some students believe creating a “Blade Runner” like tunnel or delivering all our shopping needs via drone is the solution others suggest forcing increases in  population density will create a more efficient development pattern and reduce society’s automobile dependency.

The Free Enterprise Forum is excited to see the students push the US 29 envelope but we continue to believe that the expeditious construction of the Western Bypass will result in a context sensitive ‘Business 29’ that meets the citizen expectations, enhance economic development  AND the goals set out in the UVA VORTEX.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan 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: Free Enterprise Forum, Warner Brothers Studio

 

Historical Repetition US29 Bypass

All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.”

Peter Pan Walt Disney Pictures 1953

us 29 logoLast week, utilizing a Freedom of Information Act request, Charlottesville Tomorrow obtained an Army Corps of Engineers letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) critical of the US 29 Western Bypass moving forward without additional study up to perhaps, a new full Environmental Impact Statement.

Rather than citing specific data lapses and specific federal wetlands concerns, the Army Corps of Engineers letter relies on data provided by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC)  and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO). That these two organizations were called out, in SELC’s case cited four times by name, suggests the Army Corps of Engineers was heavily lobbied.

The letter, which missed the processes required deadline due to “workload …and the complexity of the matters at hand”, suggests that the Environmental Assessment (EA) process be rewound to start and reconsider all the alternative routes and solutions.

The past is clearly prologue here because on this specific road this matter was heard and addressed in Piedmont Environmental and Sierra Club v. United States Department of Transportation lawsuit. The suit was returned supporting FHWA decision on all but one count and this was supported in the appellate decision.  The final count, which could have been legally defended was mitigated and removed in 2003.

Interestingly on page 20 of Federal Judge Norman Moon’s 40 page decision the court found the contention regarding a lack of consideration of alternatives was “completely without merit”.

Fast forward just under a decade and you see the Army Corps of Engineers, under significant lobbing from the left, utilizing many of the same facts as were decided in the PEC case. Recognizing the Army Corps self identified “workload” issues, it is easy to see how legal language from well placed letters with cut and paste legal language may have found their way into the Corps letter.

While we were disappointed in the Army Corps letter, both in content and timing, the Free Enterprise Forum believes FHWA still retains the ability to approve the roadway with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Most if not all of the concerns raised in the Army Corps letter were dealt with as a part of the 2001 Moon decision. Any new regulatory requirements could be mitigated as the project applies for and receives permits from the Corps.

Of course once FHWA issues their ruling, this Federal action will likely generate a lawsuit from an alphabet soup of opponeyogi_berrants to the roadway.

Perhaps Yogi Berra said it best, “It’s déjà vu all over again”

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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.

2011 Forum Watch Top Ten

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By Neil Williamson, President

‘Tis the season for Top Ten lists.  The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed all the issues we have followed and built our list based on the importance of the story and its future potential impact on the region.

Honorable mentions included:

Without question our favorite 2011 comment came from “Emory” regarding the first TJPDC story above:

toy story martians“In what way are the local politicians like space aliens?

I’ve never met a space alien, jealous of Mr. Williams in that regard.”

Without further ado here are our top 10 stories from 2011.

10.  Fluvanna County Administrator Jay Scudder resigns suddenly. Fluvanna has been through two administrators in as many years.

Field Officer William Des Rochers reports: “According to multiple sources, Scudder alienated the staff almost from the outset of his tenure and never managed to gain their confidence. SuperJay Scuddervisors became aware of the problem and also had their own difficulties with the administrator. Some believed as administrator, he was developing his own agenda and was not as supportive of the Board’s policies as he might have been.”  Click here for more

9.  Greene County Funds Schools Projects.  After over several years of discussion and public hearings Greene County approves infrastructure improvements at their schools complex (4-2). Athletic facilities and performing arts center to receive significant facelift.

Field Officer Pauline Hovey reports: “For the nearly 11 years thisgreene county track crack reporter has lived in Greene County and attended public hearings, this marks the first time 100 percent of public comments favored a proposal. No public hesitancy or negative comments were expressed at the hearing held at the Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center at William Monroe High School. From business leaders to coaches, from parents to seniors with no children in the school system, every one of the 25 individuals who addressed the board fully supported the project, many of them expressing concern about the safety and condition of existing facilities”.(January)  Click here for more

8.  Louisa County gets the worst of the August 23rd earthquake and countless significant aftershocks.  After delays, FEMA grants emergency aid.

Field Officer John Haksch reports: On November 4th Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that clip_image002President Obama, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has reversed their previous decision to disqualify Louisa residents and businesses from receiving federal aid following the earthquake that rocked the county on August 23rd. The official request by the governor for assistance was made on September 20th, following thorough, weeks-long investigation by FEMA and both professional volunteers and county staff. Click here for more

7.  Albemarle County Places 29 Master Plan approved.  The Free Enterprise Forum registered its opposition to the plan but it fell on deaf ears

“It is important to note that while we have been an activePlaces29 Bistro Corner participant in the Places29 planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of Places29 for many years.

While some of the concerns we highlighted have been removed, like the Supertax, others remain.  Click here to read more

6. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) proposed “devolution” moving the responsibility secondary roads to localities.

VDOT logoFrom VDOT: Virginia is one of only a few states where state government has maintenance, operational, and construction responsibilities for local roads.

In most states, the state transportation agency assumes these responsibilities for interstate and primary routes while local governments assume them for local roads.

Except in Arlington and Henrico counties, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) assumes all maintenance, operational, and construction responsibilities on the secondary roads in the commonwealth’s counties.

In 2001, the General Assembly enacted what is commonly known as the “Devolution Statute.” The statute provides that boards of supervisors in any county that wishes to assume responsibility for any portion of the state secondary system of highways within that county’s boundaries may request the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner enter into and implement an agreement to do so. This is known as “devolution.”

VDOT Devolution is a huge issue as we move into the 2012 General Assembly.

5. 1-Community Launch.  The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission starts its nearly $1 million dollar, three year 1-Community Comprehensive planning project AKA 36 month Planner Employment Plan.many plans logo

The Free Enterprise Forum blog has raised may concerns with this project:

“On the surface such a planning exercise seems benign, perhaps even appropriate but it’s much more than a simple planning exercise.  This may be the first step in changing the priorities in each localities comprehensive plan.

Without being overly dramatic, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Many Plans, One Community” has predetermined the result of their three year process as if they were programming the destination on their GPS.” To read more click here

4.  Cville Human Rights Commission Proposed City of Charlottesville opens up consideration of new bureaucracy with significant investigative and enforcement powers under the banner of “Human Rights”

The Free Enterprise Forum weighed in early with significant concerns with the legally duplicative  proposal:

“After reviewing all of the material  readily available on this issue, the Free Enterprise Forum fears that moving forward with the politically appointed Human Rights Commission, based on its current construct and goals, will do more harm than good for City economic opportunities across all demographic cohorts.

While we remain very concerned with human rights, we are equally concerned that unnecessary red tape will push more businesses out of not only Charlottesville but the entire region.

If the region loses economic opportunities  for the fear of over regulation, the region, and the residents of the region, lose.” to read more click here

3.  Meadowcreek Parkway (Albemarle Project) Opens. Albemarle pushes VDOT (and Charlottesville) to open their completed Meadowcreek Parkway Project.  While this will technically occur in 2012, it is a 2011 story.

The Free Enterprise Forum called out this issue in early summer under the headline “High Stakes Poker”

“Perhaps100_0362 the longest poker game on record (43 years), Charlottesville raised the ante by demanding a grade separated interchange be fully funded prior to any of the three independent projects moving forward (the largest in a litany of many conditions).  Despite the interchange funding secured through a Senator John Warner federal earmark,  City Council currently retains a narrow 3-2 split in favor of construction of the City project (McIntire Extended).  There has also been a federal lawsuit filed by a number of city residents.

When the three independent projects will open is still unclear.  At this point, Albemarle County seems to have an upper hand with a full constructed, albeit closed, road.  The lawsuit is a wild card that may or may not trump Albemarle”

In December Albemarle County requested VDOT open the road.  Charlottesville, in an act of true chutzpah placed a number of conditions for the opening of a road that starts in Albemarle County runs through Albemarle County and currently terminates in Albemarle County.  VDOT plans to address the conditions Charlottesville set forth and plans to open the Albemarle County project on January 6th click here for more

2.  Community Water Supply Plan Moves Slowly ForwardRivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) plan to move forward with 30’ height earthen dam is approved by DEQ.  The RWSA is positioned to award the dam bid as early as this Wednesday December 28th.  Back in March, the Free Enterprise Forum, who is a long time supporter of the Community Water Supply plan wrote:

“One of the more contentious, and expensive, poker games in recent memory.  This game required each side to fund preliminary engineering on two very different proposals for expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  At the time, the Free Enterprise Forum opined regardless of who won someone was wasting money because their plan would not be used.  In the end, the jointly run Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority selected the County favored plan of an earthen dam but at a lower height than the county wanted.

Recognizing that the lower height was the only way the project would move forward at all, Albemarle agreed to Charlottesville’s demands.  In March 2009, Mayor Dave Norris famously said, “We hold all the cards” because the City holds title to the reservoir.”

When one considers the infrastructure Rivanna is planning to replace dates back to 1908 (and South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built in 1966), one can recognize this issue may have has the greatest generational impact.

Charlottesville Tomorrow has a well written summary of the most recent DEQ action.  Click here to read more

1. Western Bypass US 29 Bypass revived, approved and goes out to bid.   Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approve funding of the Western US 29 Bypass.  Nine vendors qualify to bid on the project.

Bypass Headline April 2011No story got more readership this year than our work on the US29 Bypass.  Starting with a small mention in an April 2011  VDOT Freight Report ending with a 3-2 vote on the MPO and a 12-1 vote on the CTB.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal advocate for the Bypass.  In a widely read editorial in the Daily Progress we opined the Western Bypass may reduce traffic to the levels that would allow the vision of Places 29 to become a reality:

Our stretch of US29 is the most dangerous portion of the entire US29 Corridor. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reported that 49% of all motor vehicle accidents – 41% of all personal injury accidents – within the Commonwealth of Virginia along US 29 occur in Charlottesville or Albemarle.  The current roadway is increasingly unsafe and the US29 Western Bypass will increase safety on our main street dramatically.Rt29logocorridor study

Current VDOT data estimates that an average of 57,000 motor vehicles cross US29 at Hydraulic Road every day. VDOT has further estimated between 10%-20% of those vehicles are “thru-traffic” with no intention of stopping in our community. Using the median range (15%) means that more than 8,000 vehicles, many heavy trucks, would be removed. In addition each day as many as 10,000 or more vehicles within our region would bypass ‘Business 29’….

Each year the Federal Government and Virginia collect more than $40 million in motor vehicle taxes in Charlottesville and Albemarle.  The last major public road project completed locally is the widening of US29 (mid 1990s).  It has been estimated that as a community we have paid $600 million in motor vehicle taxes in the sixteen years since VDOT constructed any new road project here. It’s time our community got some of its infrastructure investment back.

us 29 logoTwenty years from now, citizens will look back on this discussion and not talk about the meritorious Western Bypass but instead wonder, as with the Route 250 Bypass, “How would our community survive without the vitality of ‘Business 29’?”

All of these issues and the local elections, 2011 is headed to the history books but I know I have learned a great deal.

Thank you for reading the blog.  The field officers and I work hard to provide you with informed commentary on local issues that impact you.

In 2012, The Free Enterprise Forum is moving into our eighth year.  As for most enterprises, 2011 has been a challenge. If you find our work helpful, please consider financially supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  Please click here for our secure server donation page!

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.  May you and your families have a Happy 2012.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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

Photo Credits: Pixar, Albemarle County, Fluvanna County, Office of Governor,  VDOT

“Business” 29 – The Road the Bypass Built

By. Neil Williamson, President

This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday October 2, 2011.

The Free Enterprise Forum and other organizations and citizens support construction of the US29 Western Bypass because it will alleviate congestion by taking thousands of vehicles off our community’s main commercial boulevard while increasing safety exponentially.

us 29 logoThe new 6.2 mile road features no exits, no intermediate interchanges, merely a northern and southern terminus. This is a true bypass.

Beyond the safety and improvement of freight, the Western Bypass will pave the way (pun intended) for the creation of the new ‘Business 29’.

Please let me explain.

Our stretch of US29 is the most dangerous portion of the entire US29 Corridor. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reported that 49% of all motor vehicle accidents – 41% of all personal injury accidents – within the Commonwealth of Virginia along US 29 occur in Charlottesville or Albemarle.  The current roadway is increasingly unsafe and the US29 Western Bypass will increase safety on our main street dramatically.Rt29logocorridor study

Current VDOT data estimates that an average of 57,000 motor vehicles cross US29 at Hydraulic Road every day. VDOT has further estimated between 10%-20% of those vehicles are “thru-traffic” with no intention of stopping in our community. Using the median range (15%) means that more than 8,000 vehicles, many heavy trucks, would be removed. In addition each day as many as 10,000 or more vehicles within our region would bypass ‘Business 29’.

Health BenefitsThe Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not convinced of the linkages between health risks and roadway locations.  They have prepared detailed analysis regarding Mobile Source Air Toxic (MSAT) emissions indicating significant concerns with the data collection methods and the results of the studies recently quoted by ‘Business 29’ opponents.

In fact, the FHWA believes, “There is also the lack of a national consensus on an acceptable level of risk”.   Further, the FHWA using the EPA MOBILE6.2 Model projects advancements in regulations for vehicle engines and fuels will cause overall emissions to decline by 72% by 2050 while Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) actually increases 145%

speed limit 55Based on our analysis, we believe ‘Business 29’ will actually improve air quality by keeping the through traffic moving at 55 mph rather than creeping through fourteen (soon to be fifteen) stoplights.

us29 woodbrook rd 0830 7.27.11

US29 at Woodbrook

Freight Impact VDOT’s freight study earlier this year identified the US 29 Bypass as a “High Impact” roadway. Considering the fourteen traffic lights removed from the trip through Charlottesville, one can imagine not only the time and fuel savings but the environmental benefits of removing the tractor trailers stacking up from Best Buy all the way to Northrop Grumman.

Business 29’, unlike the five interchange expressway originallybike lane sign envisioned in Places29, will not be a shared superhighway ineffectively serving both local and through trips. Instead, this new road may allow some of the existing asphalt to be used for alternative purposes such as bike and transit lanes.

In addition without the demands of through traffic, the speed on the roadway could be reduced to make it much more of an urban boulevard rather than an expressway.

Albemarle’s Economic Engine A 2007 study conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum for the North Charlottesville Business Council tracked the economic impact of the North 29 area (called Workplace29).  The Workplace 29 report found that the North US 29 corridor:

· contributes over 45% of Albemarle County’s local tax revenue from less than 2% of the land area.

· supports approximately 20,000 jobs and provides over $800 million dollars in annual salaries to these workers.

· Non residential properties in Workplace 29 comprise .4% of Albemarle County’s land area and generate 60% of the non-residential taxes levied.

‘Business 29’ will revitalize the US29 North corridor. The Places29 vision includes outdoor cafés and wide urban sidewalks for window urban frontageshopping. Such enhancements can only be achieved with a slower paced main street rather than an expressway, with its five interchanges bisecting the community. Instead of eliminating existing businesses (and jobs) with enterprise consuming interchanges, ‘Business 29’ will allow existing businesses to expand and others to open.

Further, a local main street will make infill development significantlyPlaces29 Bistro Corner more attractive in the core of the development area rather than sprawling out into the edges. There is no way to achieve what Places29 envisions without removing some of the traffic from the corridor; it cannot function as both our “Main Street” and as our only north-south corridor.

This route was always a part of the plan. After studying approximately 27 possible road locations in the City and County, it was determined that the one with the least impacts, most direct path, and least cost was Alternative 10, (“Rt. 29 Western By-pass”).

Even though some of the areas on US29 North have been rezoned and/or developed since the study was originally prepared, these areas have been designated for high density growth since at least the 1984 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Plan. This designation was factored in when the original route was developed.

SignificantlyUS29_Charlottesville_Bypass_L, the route of the bypass has been on the Comprehensive Plan Land Use maps for many, many years.   The most recent map, which was effective up until Places 29 was approved, is entitled “2015 Land Use Map” and is marked “Adopted June 1996, Amended May 2010.”  So all land use decisions since at least 1984 were made with the expectation that this road follow this route and as recently as May 2010 Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan map envisioned this road in this location for its long range planning purposes.

Cost Factors. Recent reports have the cost estimates for the Western Bypass varying dramatically. The only way to determine the actual cost to build the roadway is to send the project out to bid, as was done this week. The Free Enterprise Forum sees no benefit to arguing about an internal VDOT project estimate when an actionable bid will be made available in the very near term.

All of the above raises the question, had this project been completed when first proposed how many millions of dollars may have been saved?

Should the taxpayers pursue legal action to recoup the increased opportunity costs?

It’s About Time. This is the time for ‘Business 29’ and the US29 Western Bypass to come to fruition. These roads will answer important transportation and economic vitality needs both for this community and the Old Dominion as a whole.

Each year the Federal Government and Virginia collect more than $40 million in motor vehicle taxes in Charlottesville and Albemarle.  The last major public road project completed locally is the widening of US29 (mid 1990s).  It has been estimated that as a community we have paid $600 million in motor vehicle taxes in the sixteen years since VDOT constructed any new road project here. It’s time our community got some of its infrastructure investment back.

Twenty years from now, citizens will look back on this discussion and not talk about the meritorious Western Bypass but instead wonder, as with the Route 250 Bypass, “How would our community survive without the vitality of ‘Business 29’?”

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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

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, VDOT

US29 Western Bypass Approved 3-2 is This The End of The Beginning?

By. Neil Williamson, Presidentimage

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. 

Sir Winston Churchill – November 1942

 

This Churchill quote came to mind as the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted 3-2 (Szakos and Huja opposed) to move forward with the US29 Western Bypass that had been authorized for funding by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) just one week prior.  While the endeavor to improve transportation is nowhere near as important as the Second World War, the quote provides the proper context to where we stand today – and the way ahead.

The Charlottesville City Representatives on the MPO (City Councilors Kristin Szakos and  Satyendra Huja) were pressing for a delay in the 10rel27a (connaughton pix)decision as one important piece of information, a letter from Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton (photo), was received less than a half hour prior to the start of the meeting.  Szakos expressed concern that neither the balance of City Council not the City Attorney were provided the opportunity to review the letter.  After a motion to defer failed 2-3.  The motions to move the projects forward passed 3-2.

After the vote, long time bypass opponent and former MPO member, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) spoke to the Board under other matters from the public.  He indicated in his long tenure of public service he had never seen a board operate in the manner the MPO just did.  He was “ashamed” of their actions.

Earlier in the evening, some of the speakers mentioned how this vote would influence their thinking regarding how they would vote for their local representation.  Others suggested, despite the anticipated loss on this vote, their organizations would fight on – and win.

All of this is to suggest that the energized and polarized atmosphere that has been evident in the region shows no sign of dissipating and in fact will likely increase in pitch as local elections draw near.

One need only look at the approved (and previously permitted) meadowcreek closed 2community water supply plan or the long awaited Meadowcreek Parkway to see how an energized opposition can create legal, political, and regulatory roadblocks to projects. 

In addition, the fact that the MPO was split along City/County lines does not speak well for future cooperation.  There are some in the community that have suggested this dissention will lead to future conflict on the Community Water Supply Plan.  While we hope this is not the case, there was an air of resentment in the air after the vote to defer failed 2-3 last night.  Szakos stated her “disappointment” with her fellow MPO members for pushing the vote through. 

The Free Enterprise Forum is pleased that the western bypass project is moving forward; it has been a long time coming and once built it  will serve both thru and local traffic.  In addition it will promote economic vitality not only in Charlottesville/Albemarle but throughout the Commonwealth.

The vote, both for and against, required courage and conviction from the MPO members.  While we hope that both sides respect the other and put this issue in the rearview mirror, we recognize this will likely be a legal issue and a campaign issue for 2011, 2013 and beyond.

The issues and the politics that go with them are heating up as August approaches.  Stay engaged.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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