Connaughton to Charlottesville: Implement a Plan to Prevent More U.S. 29 Congestion

Photo credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

If Charlottesville and Albemarle County want millions of dollars for transportation improvements in the U.S. 29 corridor promised to them by the state, they will have to deliver something in return: Implement a credible plan to protect the highway from encroachment by future development.

That’s a message I got loud and clear this morning in an interview with Sean Connaughton. And it’s a message I should have absorbed when I reported a week ago on the discussion of a letter that the state transportation secretary had sent the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization regarding approval of transportation projects bundled with the Charlottesville Bypass.

In that letter, Connaughton said he would ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to fund or expedite four projects deemed crucial by Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials. These include three projects within the U.S. 29 corridor — the Berkmar extension, Hillsdale Drive and a new ramp at the intersection of U.S. 29 and U.S. 250 — as well as the Belmont Bridge in the city.

In my article, “Promises, Promises,” I focused on the issue debated by the MPO board members: What stock could local officials could put in Connaughton’s promises? Had he lived up to assurances he had given two MPO board meetings in a previous, private meeting? And was “recommending” something to the CTB as good as promising he would deliver?

As Connaughton pointed out to me this morning, I omitted mention of the last two paragraphs of his letter — the quid pro quo he was asking of local officials. Let me reproduce those paragraphs because they have significance far beyond Charlottesville and Albemarle County:

As you are aware, the CTB has identified Route 29 as one of eleven transportation corridors as Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS). The purpose of a CoSS designation is to provide a multimodal vision for the corridors to guide localities in their land use and transportation plans. Without guidance, local decisions can degrade a corridor’s ability to move people and goods, causing bottlenecks and problems that are costly to fix, and undermine economic and quality-of-life goals. As Virginia continues to grow, it must take steps now to ensure the right balance of development, transportation capacity, and natural resources. …

In consideration of the aforementioned transportation investments the Commonwealth is making in your MPO’s area of responsibility, it is our expectation that the MPO will commit to work with the CTB to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy that will protect your segment of the Route 29 Corridor from the types of encroachment that causes the bottlenecks and problems that we are currently planning to fix. We believe that the Albemarle-Charlottesville region has the opportunity to become a leader in this regard and, with your assistance, we look forward to making the CoSS initiative meaningful for localities and the traveling public.

Connaughton paraphrased the thrust of the letter this way: “We’re going to make you the test bed for corridors of statewide significance.” He wants to ensure that Charlottesville and Albemarle County avoid making the same mistakes again “so we don’t have to spend millions of dollars to build another bypass.”

Lesson to other jurisdictions: Connaughton is serious about implementing “access management” strategies in Virginia’s Corridors of Statewide Significance.  (For more about access management, see “When Less is More.“) Charlottesville and Albemarle are first. You may be next.

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7 responses to “Connaughton to Charlottesville: Implement a Plan to Prevent More U.S. 29 Congestion”

  1. Connaughton may be nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Developers’ Cathedral. We might be seeing the start of the Transportation Reformation. Instead of devoting taxpayer funds to build transportation facilities near developers’ holdings, the Commonwealth might be trying to spend money improving the efficiency and safety of the movement of people and goods.
    As Gerry Connolly once told me, “Developers support whatever transportation project borders their land.” We cannot continue to operate in that manner. Building roads or mass transit to spur development is not in the public interest. Landowners can do this themselves under the PPA. We need projects built that produce good returns on taxpayer investment.

  2. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    Connaughton is absolutely right. Unfortunately, nothing is liable to come of it. For starters, Charlottesville—the legal entity—won’t have an inch of this bypass bypass in it. It’s in Albemarle. More important, the bypass is pretty close to the northern border of Albemarle. The MPO includes Charlottesville and Albemarle—but Greene County has zero interest in limiting development just to protect the Western Bypass. In fact, they have the opposite incentive—they want Greene residents (and northern Albemarle residents) to head north to Ruckersville to do their shopping, and they’re eager to add services to make that possible.

    A comprehensive, multi-jurisdiction, revenue-sharing plan is going to be required to make this work, one that significantly raises the bar to new access points to Route 29. I just can’t see that happening.

  3. Good points, Waldo. I’ll keep them in mind during my continued coverage of the Bypass controversy.

  4. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    I’m just glad you’re covering it!

  5. this is ironically once of those “what is the purpose of govt” issues or perhaps more succinctly – using Groveton’s “home rule”… “Richmond…stay out of my nickers” rant.

    should the State govt dictate to the counties using the similar justification that the Feds do with the States?

    What does a road of “statewide significance” have to do with the way that Albemarle, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Fairfax, et all want to do business if even dumb as a stump?

    After all …if Boss Hogg wants to make a deal with a local businessman what right does the state have to “interfere” with that arrangement?

    what EXACTLY ….IS…. the compelling interest of the State ( of Virginians) in “meddling” in the affairs of a local jurisdiction anyhow?

    Is Jim Bacon supporting the fascist boot of centralized govt here?

    gawd o’mighty.

    I mean what RIGHT has the Federal govt in dictating Interstate standards when those roads rightly belong to the states whose borders they are within, right?

    this is a meaty subject to me.

    does the State have the right to tell Charlottesville what to do with the gas tax money their own citizens generate – and the Feds and the State collected and re-distribute back (some, not all) to them?

    Does the State of Va have the right to put “strings” on that money when they return it to the locality>

    so this is a question to BR bloggers ….

    I can tell you where I come down and you can decide if that is a liberal or conservative concept – but I personally believe that we DO NEED interstate roads that function for transportation and that we do need roads of statewide significance that function similarly but perhaps less restrictively than the interstates.

    what say folks? (I’m betting I know where TMT comes down, but I’m curious to see where Bacon, Groveton, and Waldo come down).

    do youse guys support the central govt intervening in local affairs for what are defined as “state” interests?


  6. Larry, you raise an interesting question about the proper role of state government. Should the state have the right to dictate land use decisions to the localities? I would say, “no.” But I would hastily add that that’s an oversimplification of the situation here.

    You know that I believe in turning responsibility for secondary roads, along with the money to pay for them, to the local governments. But I also believe that the state should retain responsibility for “corridors of statewide significance,” including Interstates, U.S. highways and other roads that connect urban agglomerations within Virginia and outside the state. Risse’s Rule: Government decision making should reside at the level of impact. The state should run things like intra-state roads that have an impact wider than the metropolitan areas.

    The localities have gunked up highways like U.S. 29 by converting them into Main Streets. The state was derelict in letting them do so, and they should now seize the opportunity to fix that mistake.

    Should VDOT then have the power to dictate land use decisions to localities? I’m not sure about that. But I would say this, if the localities want state money for state highways in their jurisdiction, the state has the right to set terms and conditions. Clean up your act, or no more money.

  7. “corridors of statewide (or national) significance” – IMPLIES to me that in that corridor the State/Feds have the right to protect the functionality of the transportation system.

    I know the Feds have fairly strict requirements on WHERE you can put an interchange or not… and that they use transportation metrics in their decision-making.

    For instance, you cannot add an interchange.. if the traffic study shows that in doing so.. it damages/reduces the thorough-flow of the mainline.

    so… do you buy the idea that the state or the locality can deny a curb-cut or require two access points to a subdivision?

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