by James A. Bacon
A month after getting the sack from the Commonwealth Transportation Board, James E. Rich, former Culpeper District representative, has unloaded on the $245 million Charlottesville Bypass and Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton in far harsher terms than he did immediately after his resignation. (See “Our Way or the Highway.”)
“Despite the contrary advice of senior VDOT engineers and a $1.5 million Route 29 study conducted by VDOT, Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton is hell bent on resurrecting a thoroughly discredited 20-year-old bypass proposal,” Rich wrote in The Hook, a Charlottesville tabloid.
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. This a colossal waste of taxpayer money from which any fiscal conservative should recoil. …
Why would Connaughton propose such a project and do so in such a nontransparent manner? The answer is arrogance, politics over engineering and a complete lack of vision for Charlottesville-Albemarle. Much like the fiscal situation in Washington, Connaughton kicks the can down the road for somebody else to deal with.
Those aren’t partisan potshots. Rich served on the executive committee of the Republican Party of Virginia for 20 years.
Unquestionably the strongest personality in Governor Bob McDonnell’s cabinet, Connaughton has earned the reputation of someone who “gets the job done.” One way he gets things done is is willingness to play hardball in a Virginia political culture that is still genteel in many respects. Under his watch, the administration swept clean the board of directors of the Virginia Port Authority, installed new appointees on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and canned Rich, an irritatingly independent voice on the CTB. Rest assured that other gubernatorial appointees subject to Connaughton’s reach have gotten the message.
Decision-making for mega-transportation projects is so complex, so process-driven and so easy for determined opponents to run off track that some observers find Connaughton’s approach refreshing. If all goes well, he will look like a hero. But if his damn-the-torpedoes approach leads to cost overruns or defaulted bonds, history may remember him the way Jim Rich describes him.