Corridor cleaning: Strings attached to 29 Bypass money

When Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton told the Metropolitan Planning Organization July 27 which Charlottesville and Albemarle projects he'd recommend funding in addition to the Western U.S. 29 bypass, many may have overlooked his letter's last two paragraphs, in which he laid out what Albemarle is expected to do in return: come up with a plan to limit access on the rest of U.S. 29.

What that means exactly is less certain, but it could include measures that some bypass supporters objected to when bottleneck-avoiding solutions like the grade-separated interchanges were proposed during the so-called "Places 29" planning process.

Both Chamber of Commerce president Tim Hulbert and MPO director Steve Williams see no quid pro quo in Connaughton's letter and say that "access management," as it's called in transportation circles, is neither surprising nor unreasonable.

But Connaughton himself utters the "q" words and says that Albemarle will be a "test bed" for access management as a Corridor of Statewide Significance (of which U.S. 29 is one of 11 VDOT has identified).

"This is all new," Connaughton says in a phone interview. "We've never done this before. How do we put teeth into the designation?"

He lists some ways: limiting curb cuts and traffic lights, better light synchronization, and parallel/service roads.

As for the controversial grade-separated interchanges that raised howls? "I don't know where we'd put them," answers Connaughton, "but it's up for discussion."

"We need to make sure we understand what this means and the people who supported the bypass understand what it means," says Albemarle Supervisor Ann Mallek, who says she was so focused on making sure long-desired projects like an additional lane at the ramp near Best Buy, and the Hillsdale and Berkmar Drive extensions made the list that it took a while to realize there were conditions.

The conditions attached to the flood of money were first reported by Jim Bacon on his public policy website, Bacon's Rebellion.

"I interpreted it as a new condition because I'd never heard it mentioned before," says Bacon. "I talked to Connaughton, and he took me to task for not mentioning it. He said, 'We see this as a test bed.' He used the words 'quid pro quo,'" says Bacon, who quotes Connaughton as saying, "'Charlottesville Albemarle, you want this money for these roads, you've got to clean up your corridor.'"

The exact details of what corridor cleaning means has Mallek uneasy, and she calls framing it as a quid pro quo "threatening." She notes that the idea of limiting access to Route 29 has long provoked "absolute outrage" from the counties north of Charlottesville.

Mallek objects to Connaughton's intervention in bypass approval, something that's supposed to rise from the local level, not come "top down" from the state, and she worries that could jeopardize federal highway dollars.

"As far as I'm concerned," responds Connaughton, "the Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted for it, and the MPO did, so that is local support."

MPO Chair Rodney Thomas downplays any talk of deal-making. "I look forward to cooperating," says Thomas, noting that he has some concern about restricting driveways on future developments. "I don't want to see people who own property have their rights taken away."

The six-years-in-the-making Places 29 was an access management plan that identified 55 driveways to be closed and two grade-separated interchanges, according to Piedmont Environmental Council executive Jeff Werner.

"The business community said that would kill our business," says Werner, adding that the access management plan "did not show up before Connaughton's letter."

The Chamber of Commerce's Hulbert also was involved in the "tortuous" Places 29 process and says the Western Bypass should have been part of the plan all along. As for reducing bottlenecks on the rest of 29, says Hulbert, "VDOT can always say no access. The county doesn't have final say on that."

Connaughton points to benefits to keeping traffic moving on U.S. 29 around Charlottesville.

"One of the reasons your region has not been successful in obtaining funding is the 29 Bypass– it's  been the cork in the bottle," says the Secretary. After the state put an initial $50 million into the Bypass only to see the project languish, the state grew hesitant to funnel more funds into such a road-averse region, Connaughton explains.

Projects like the extensions to Berkmar and Hillsdale should help take traffic off U.S. 29. Another reason to get serious about limiting the encroachments that currently bottleneck 29 according to Connaughton: "We want to make sure we aren't back here again."


I sent a similar suggestion to the boards and committees using images of US67 in Sherwood and Jacksonville, AR as an example of how access roads on either side of a grade separated highway have no need of huge cloverleaf intersections and could fit within the current 29 corridor without ever cutting into the existing sidewalks. Rather it could add sidewalks under and across 29. Google maps shows this well in the satellite view.

Read again and edit:

"What that means exactly is less certain, but it could include measures that some bypass supporters objected to when bottleneck-avoiding solutions like the grade-separated interchanges proposed during the so-called "Places 29" planning process."

Nice catch, Biff. Sometimes methinks The Hook's staff has never seen the inside of Strunk and White.

It seems this may be yet another example of our local officials apprving a plan without fully vetting it with the public in order for them to get it off their desks and "move forward."
@still living, you will soon find out that it is a waste of time trying to convince people that there are other ways of accomplishing a goal. They have their handlers and they just go through the motions to appear that they are actually listening to members of the public. If they want to do something differently, they will hire a consultant/vendor and buy his product.

Strings attached? With state money? I'm shocked! But what do you expect with Laurel & Hardy heading up negotiations for the county.

BUILD BABY BUILD. Start thinking big instead of trying to correct the past mistakes of thinking small. Run the western bypass allthe way up past Stadardsville and all the way down to I-64. Then we'll run one on the east side of the ville.

The way they do roads around here reminds me of the way they do public transit in certain third world countries; start with a pickup truck, build it 20 feet high with all sorts of overhangs, and load it up until the axles are right on the snubbers. Have livestock, people, and freight hanging off it every which way while having the whole thing driven by an illiterate 17 year old from the sticks. Everything is so improvisational and ad hoc. Who else builds an 8 lane freeway with traffic lights one after another and driveways debouching into the bedlam? I've been all over the country and I've never seen a smaller town with such big traffic woes as the mess on 29 north.