Rodney Thomas made no secret of his desire for the Western 29 bypass, and when he and Duane Snow were elected to the Board of Supervisors, he had a chance to make it a reality.
Rodney Thomas objects to being called a wheeler dealer.
PHOTO BY LISA PROVENCE
Rodney Thomas is mad. It's one day after a prominent blogger has accused the Albemarle supervisor of agreeing to "grease the skids" for the construction of the Western U.S. 29 bypass by limiting access to the rest of 29.
"That's a bunch of baloney," says Thomas. He called up blogger Jim Bacon to let him know he didn't appreciate his August 10 Bacon's Rebellion story, "Gentleman's Agreement," that contends Thomas made a handshake deal to limit stoplights, median crossings, and driveways on Albemarle's portion of U.S. 29 in exchange for $230 million in funding for the Western 29 bypass and U.S. 29 widening, along with money for completion of Hillsdale Drive, the Best Buy Ramp at U.S. 29/250, Berkmar Drive extension, and the Belmont Bridge replacement.
(Bacon considered Thomas' reaction in a followup column, "When does a deal become a side deal?")
"There is no deal," says Thomas.
Limiting access– or access management, as it's called– is already in place with future access to 29 controlled by VDOT, says Thomas. Not creating any more bottlenecks like stoplights and median crossovers seems a reasonable expectation to keep traffic moving.
Yet the fact remains that, along with fellow freshman supe Duane Snow, also elected in 2009, Thomas has been instrumental in resurrecting the long-buried Western 29 bypass from the grave. As chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the native Charlottesvillian has been hearing lots of citizen outrage. And support.
"Most people are for the bypass," says Thomas. "There's a small, loud group that jumps up and down and is very passionate."
If Thomas is convinced that most Albemarleans want the bypass, he doesn't seem quite prepared for the blowback for getting it back on the table.
"He's surprised people are angry?" asks the Piedmont Environmental Council's Jeff Werner. "He takes the most most controversial project in 20 years and rams it through in a midnight vote." Werner offers Thomas a suggestion: "Put on your boy pants."
"I don't really care what the Piedmont Environmental Council says," responds Thomas, who could probably say more, but that might seem ungentlemanly.
"Gentleman" is the first word Chamber of Commerce president Tim Hulbert uses to describe Thomas. "He's always very fair-minded and open," says Hulbert. "Rodney listens. He's a pretty straight-shooting guy."
Thomas is friends with the owners of Harris Trucking in Lynchburg, but he tells a reporter, "Lynchburg and Danville didn't have anything to do with the Bypass. I told my friends not to get in touch with me in any way."
Owner of Charlottesville Press, Republican Thomas won his Rio District election on a platform of keeping the property tax rate low and pushing the board to create a climate of business and economic vitality. If he had the Bypass on his mind, he didn't campaign on it.
"I'm a little upset we swept this under the rug for 10 or 12 years," says Thomas. And he doesn't really want the Bypass to end– as it will– just south of Hollymead Town Center. "I would hope the state would attach the bypass on up to Culpeper."
While Thomas says he's accomplished some objectives, he says he's "not sure" about running again. And he makes a request of a reporter: "Don't get me in any more trouble."