GOP Road Kill

Rodney Thomas

Rodney Thomas

Among the more interesting election results from Wednesday, Democrats trounced three Republican candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. The county split close to even in the gubernatorial and lieutenant governor’s races, indicating that the Democrats sweeping to power in the board of supervisors rode were not riding on Terry McAuliffe’s coattails.

The vote was a referendum on the Charlottesville Bypass. Incumbents Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow, who played key roles in resurrecting the bypass  two years ago, were thumped by 13 and 14 percentage-point margins respectively. A third Republican candidate, Cindi Burket, got hammered by nearly 16 percentage points.

Duane Snow

Duane Snow

Such is the price that Albemarle Republicans paid for their fealty to Governor Bob McDonnell. Early in their terms, Thomas and Snow had signed on to the Places 29 plan, which would have made spot improvements on the U.S. 29 corridor north of Charlottesville rather than bypassing it. But Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton persuaded both men to vote with two others in rescinding the board’s opposition to the project. McDonnell and Connaughton rammed through the bypass, funded with transportation dollars allocated for Charlottesville-area improvements, to benefit downstate communities of Danville and Lynchburg who believed in defiance of all reason that the $240 million highway would add to their economic competitiveness.

The McDonnell administration continued pushing the bypass even when it emerged that the cost estimates were way too low. Rather than reconsider the project, Connaughton issued a design-build contract that kept the project within budget by making design changes to the northern and southern termini. Subsequent analysis showed, however, that the proposed changes significantly degraded the travel-time savings of using the bypass, negating much of the purpose of building it in the first place.

Throughout the controversy, Thomas and Snow doggedly defended McDonnell’s folly. In January, they will be gone. Now that Democrats have a majority on the board, one of the first orders of business, no doubt, will be to re-assert its opposition to the project. Such a vote surely will weigh in the long-delayed decision of the Federal Highway Administration whether or not to give the bypass the regulatory go-ahead.

Should the FHWA demur on the project, Bob McDonnell will have lost both the bypass and Albemarle Republicans their control of the board.

Contrast the fate of Thomas and Snow to that of Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centerville, and Del. Bob Marshal, R-Manassas, who sailed to re-election in Northern Virginia. While Northern Virginia went blue in the statewide elections, both men held onto their seats, Hugo quite comfortably. Both opposed the governor’s plans for the controversial Bi-County Parkway.

— JAB

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17 responses to “GOP Road Kill

  1. Jim, Jim, Jim … shame on you.

    Marshall and Hugo are in safely gerrymandered Republican HOD districts. They represent a big percentage of the last remaining sliver of conservatism in NoVa.

    The Republicans in Albemarle County represent the detritus of Virginia’s continuing “blue shift”. I guess county supervisors don’t get the same benefits from gerrymandering as members of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

    Did the Bypass matter? Sure. Would they have remained in office if they would have stuck with Places29? Don’t bet on it.

    Welcome to South Massachusetts.

  2. I’d be curious to hear Saltz’s “take” on the BOS election.

    were there other issues litigated or just the bypass?

  3. It’s all about the US 29 Bypass? Huh?

  4. Charlottesville-Albemarle is scarcely South Massachusetts.

    As for gerrymandering in Albemarle County, one would be hard pressed to do so. Unless you went to some sort of concentric circle arrangement. If there is a dichotomy, it is among those of us who live in the inner urban ring surrounding the city, and the remainder who own large estates and farmland who demand less of local government services and are largely protected from taxation through Land Use policies that forgo substantial revenues ostensibly to encourage rural land preservation.

    That schism between gentrified landowner interests and a largely educated, professional, family-centric demographic in the urban ring is being overlooked, perhaps miscast as a “bluing” of the County.

    Indeed, as the GOP is pulled rightward on largely social issues, they restrict themselves to a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. Like it or not, so-called “traditional” values are shifting. To resort to the kind of name-calling — I hear “stupid” a lot being cast at some pretty intelligent people — isn’t endearing.

    Into the fray, the “ByPass” issue is nothing new to the area. What was “new” to the County was this odd little coalition engineered by long-time stalwart GOP Supervisor Ken Boyd, when he literally recruited, and then found substantial local business support for, Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow. They rode a brief wave of anti-tax sentiment, led by a rag-tag bunch of local advocates (sound familiar) called ATTA (Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance), and an unfortunate reference to root beer and pizza. Roll forward four years, substitute ByPass for Taxation, add in a “Midnight Vote” blunder, and endless petty debates over “burning issues” like ICLEI and Agenda 21 which interest only extreme phobics, and asinine budget decisions, and voila — you get snuffed. To attribute this change as merely a referendum on the ByPass is as silly as Ken Boyd, fresh after a defeat of Cynthia Neff, declared his win a “yes” for the ByPass. Just as silly. (Boyd likely wanted cover for his associate’s brutal personal attack on Neff’s advocacy for troubled gays, translated for public consumption as her secret desire to turn the public schools into “GLBT-friendly” zones. But you won’t read about that anywhere.)

    No, this was a straight-up rebuke of (at least the perception of) dirty politics and the disproportionate influence of special interests, most notably the development community. And that also happens to be the only bastion of local support specific to THIS particular ByPass project. People sense that they have been snookered, and told stories, and fed narratives that lack “truthiness”. At the same time, the Boyd budget approach of setting lower rates and then shoehorning into what’s there his particular priorities — usually not related to education — has worn thin. Through a combination of policies, the largest percentage of property tax revenues are in fact the property owners in concentrated developments scattered in that urban ring, paying the price on incredibly over-valued real estate ($120K for a .27 acre plot in Forest Lakes). When two Supervisors habitually overlook their wants and needs, yep, they get the boot.

    Cobbled together with a reliable fiscally conservative Democrat Lindsay Dorrier, they quickly behaved like a “Gang of Four”, a solid voting Bloc that ruled County policy. Initially their target was simply straightforward Budget strangulation. Then, they forayed into Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity agenda issues, and arguably lost focus. Getting caught up in the McDonnell-Connaughton ByPass charade, followed by this past year of scandal revelations, surely did not help their credibility.

    Road Kill? Perhaps. It will take days for the stench of these two dead skunks in the middle of the road to dissipate. Good riddance. Now perhaps we can work on good governance. With any luck, we made a good start Tuesday.

  5. Thanks for the narrative. I had no idea that Cville and Albemarle were also infested with tea party types!

  6. The more interesting question is how the transportation tax vote in the ’13 session impacted the House GOP and who lost — May and Sherwood lost at the primary level, Dudenhefer and Watson at the general. All four were among the House R’s who voted aye, as I recall. But in other districts both proponents (Rust) and opponents (Ramadan) survived a strong Northern Virginia headwind and are returning. So I don’t see a pattern. Certainly no Democrat was in any trouble for voting aye. But then, in Watson and Dudenhefer’s cases, voting aye didn’t win them any swing votes from Democrats.

    Board of Supervisor races rise and fall on a hundred local issues, and every vote at that level is a hard vote. I’m sure the road issue was important. I’m positive that the Democratic GOTV effort these days is far superior to the GOP’s and Albemarle is getting pretty Blue at the base level.

  7. re: the transportation vote

    the only political folk in Va that were upset with the vote were the hard right who promised to “primary” the accused.

    It would not change Democratic votes to GOP one whitt because the
    transpo vote was totally out of character with their other votes – like
    on abortion, healthcare, climate science, etc so there is no love for the pro-road-tax GOP from the Dems at all.

    what are you thinking Breckinridge?

    😉

    The GOP in Va, like other places, is now infected with the Tea party disease – any vote for the GOP just spreads the infection.

  8. Snow, Thomas (two GOP losers) and Boyd (their GOP “leader”) all think this election was over the so-called “bypass.” In the last couple of days, they have quoted literally as saying so in the local paper. In addition, last Thursday and Friday afternoons — in their attempts to discredit a group called the “Charlottesville Bypass Truth Coalition,” they held press conferences (which they called at the last minute in hopes of keeping the publc out) to attack the Coalition* and gain unfettered media, especially TV, coverage on that night’s news. Their attacks centered on claiming the Coalition’s money came from variably Panama and D.C. and neglected entirely the Coalition’s prime issue which was student health as the EPA today suggests that all schools within a half mile of a major highway be researched to find out the effect auto exhaust is having on students, yet Virginia (and these supervisors) are planning a new highway within a quarter mile of six schools. Our local newspaper let these three get away with attacking parents over their children’s health BUT most parents, instead, turned to the Coalition’s web page and saw the data which includes the fact that our Albemarle County school superintendent and board members have asked FHWA to hold off on the “bypass” until the health can be included in VDOT’s reports. The count of Coalition page “likes” since the first attacking press conference went up about 20 percent virtually overnight. When people realize what they’re not being told, they draw connections to good governance, obviously, and there are two very specific supervisor actions which underline the lack of transparency. ONe is the “midnight” vote which was ALSO “against-supervisor-rules” and “off-agenda” voting which smacks of back-room politics. The other was the denial of citizen rights in the three supervisors voting against asking VDOT to hold a “bypass” public hearing. In the week leading to that vote, every single email, all 70, which went to the Board of Supervisors requested they ask VDOT for a public hearing and at the meeting, there was a group of 30+ elderly waving signs requesting a public hearing and 15 of 16 speakers on the issue of a public hearing requested supervisors ask VDOT for one. In addition, two other speakers mentioned the “bypass” but did not take a position on whether there should or should not be a public hearing. They were the exec director of the local Chamber (or, another way to look at it, the “money” behind the Republican party) and the so-called “hero” of the local Tea Party movement (the enthusiasm of the Republican Party). In effect, they were giving supervisors the go-ahead to vote what public sentiment was so obviously asking for…and the three GOP supervisors didn’t take it.

    No one who was there could do anything but smell “something rotten in Albemarle” and, yes, that’s a good governance issue but it is a good governance issue spawned by the so-called “bypass.” Since the margin of victory in Albemarle county supervisor races was much, much wider than in any of the state-wide races, one can only conclude that the “bypass” was a major factor.

    *I am not a member of the Coalition although I post a LOT on their web page.

  9. It’s hard to underestimate the importance of the bypass in north Charlottesville politics, but my impression from previous surveys was that County residents were largely in favor of it. Perhaps the rising costs and reduced benefit claims were enough to change things.

    The issue is a critical one because time is running out for VDOT. Much of the right of way was purchased on the condition that it would be used to build the road within 20 years or the previous owners could buy it back. That 20 year deadline is fast approaching.

    Can a new board of supervisors actually stop the bypass though? My understanding is that the TIP with the bypass approval has already been adopted by the MPO, thereby authorizing VDOT to appropriate the funds. I’m not sure how long the county can stall to try to get it removed. A new governor could put a halt to things I suppose. To reiterate Jim’s most recent post about the Bi-County Parkway, we will get to see very quickly what transportation under his administration will look like.

  10. No.. the MPO can stop it. Doing so has repercussions… but they can opt out
    at any point prior to FHWA approval.

    I’m a little bemused by expectations that McAuliffe is going to get involved in this or any other project. I do not remember McDonnell getting directly involved but perhaps my memory is weak.

    One thing of interest is the VDOT schedule/financial database for this
    project:

    http://syip.virginiadot.org/Pages/lineitemDetails.aspx?syp_scenario_id=202&line_item_id=1272751

    take a look at where the money has come from to date – and where they anticipate getting money in the future.

    they put together the first 120 million by tapping into a bunch of different pots of money… and anticipate the Feds funding much of the rest of it – and that’s not guaranteed at all until FHWA approves it and no one challenges it.

    I’d not be at all surprised if FHWA requires supplemental information that will add another year ..

  11. Both of you are right. In effect, this so-called “bypass” can be stopped at both the local and the state level through actions by the governor’s office and/or the MPO. Both the losing incumbent supervisors in the election were appointees to the MPO policy board.* They will be replaced, obviously, and by new supervisors who are either opposed to the bypass or want the Places29 plan reintroduced (and the Places29 plan shuts down any bypass). The two city council delegates to the MPO are opposed to the bypass (and are still in office) so only the VDOT rep could possibly be in favor of it in January. And VDOT has said over the years, including recently, that the overpasses at two key intersections are much more effective at dealing with congestion, at increasing traffic speeds and at increasing safety.

    Now that the election is over, the prime bypass proponent, Ken Boyd, is claiming that “we” will have to “pay back” the $50 million already spent. He is implying that “we” are county taxpayers but the vast majority of any money spent, about $47 million, was spent by the state 20 years ago to purchase right of way…which can be sold back and Virginia can even make money on the increased land value. That is and was never “county money.” Another $1.5 mil was money spent on VDOT’s 29N corridor study which concluded the “bypass” was “no longer effective.” Again, never was county money. Yet another canard propagated by his control of ill-informed Daily Progress reporters.

    Meanwhile, perhaps responding to Jim Bacon’s arguments, the speaker of the house of delegates, William Howell, has been calling for strict criteria, including a return on investment analysis, prior to constructing any transportation projects. In a letter to me, he (from Fredericksburg) knows a surprising amount about the so-called “bypass” and seems inclined to retrofit his idea to this project. Mr. Bacon’s ROI found only $8 million in public benefits for this $300+ million highway. It’s not official, of course, but two Darden Business School professors who heard him describe it here in Charlottesville said he’d done a pretty damn good job.

    All of us, I submit, should write Delegate Howell and support his efforts to insert rational thinking into the process or all projects, like this at best “back room” so-called “bypass,” will be political favors. Again, Indiana compared “design build” projects (which Connaughton has been letting none stop across Virginia) to traditional “design-bid-build” projects and said don’t build major projects design-build because the appearance or reality of corruption. In its comparison, Indiana had no projects over $50 million but, at $300 million (of the $3-$5 billion that Connaughton has let to Skanska), this “bypass” of Charlottesville is at the very low end of his projects. I submit that the “bypass” is the blueprint for how he scams (term of Jim Rich) the taxpayers by locking in ever larger change orders for more money time and time again and giving future administration zero chance of stopping stupid spending. The bait-and-switch Southern Terminus is, to me, the first step in the proof, followed by the firing of CTB board member Jim Rich and then the reassignment of the project manager within days after the project manager talked to a reporter. (There is a Pulitzer here, I submit.)

    *According to one planning commissioner, there was a kind of coup to get an anti-bypass supervisor off the MPO policy board three/four years ago and the planning commissioner says this is the first despicable action in a long, long line of them. I have not researched the “packing” of the policy board myself but I have seen a North Charlottesville Business Alliance document from that time saying they need to get the anti-bypass supervisor off the MPO.

  12. The comments above are fascinating. Still, I am puzzled as to why the by-pass seemingly has enjoyed so much political support for so long and caused public officials to go to such lengths to resurrect this project. As an outsider looking in, all this makes no sense. I am missing something. For example, why would south side Virginia business interests keep pushing this so hard if it saved them only seconds of travel time on a ten hour trip?

    What might help me fill in the missing pieces? Another words:

    1/ Where might I find the clearest public explanation by proponents of the LEGITIMATE merits behind building this $300,000,000 by-pass? Asked another way, what narratives have the by-pass proponents fed to the public that might be considered true and deserving of consideration?

    2/What narratives have the proponents fed to the public in the past that over time and scrutiny have proven to be demonstratively false?

    3/ What might be the possible hidden agendas behind the proponent’s fierce advocacy of this project? Who might be in the shadows pushing this proposal so hard? Who might benefit most from a built $300,000,000 by-pass that has no justifiable benefit to the public and is contrary to the interests of everyone else? What would those big benefits to a few be?

    A list of answers to, or educated speculations on, these questions might help to more sharply focus how to detail this $300,000,000 project that appears so outrageous on its face, as least to this outsider.

  13. I have a devils’ advocate question on bypasses.

    for those of you who have been through the Fredericksburg area on I-95, do you think a “bypass” is needed?

  14. Mr Fawell: If you do any research on this project by looking, for example, at the Charlottesville Tomorrow web site, you’ll find a dozen times where I’ve begged the proponents to make the case for this highway. And they simply never have. It’s astounding, to me, that the media doesn’t want to win a Pulitzer by simply asking the questions that you’ve asked.

    Locally, profponents just accept that a road called a “bypass” will make their driving faster. Or so it seems to me.

    I’ve made on local radio (Coy Barefoot and/or Marcello Rollando’s shows) almost a dozen appearances, using the facts and figures which you’ve read. Those ocassional times that someone has gone on and responded, the only number the proponents (Rodney Thomas, for example, defeated supervisor incumbent) have used is $47 million — that being, according to him, what is already invested on the bypass. Though I haven’t chased that number myself, it does seem reasonable because the state has purchased about 2/3 of the needed right of way, purchasing most 20 years ago, when the idea was first floated. The vast majority of the $47 will be ROW which, again, can be sold back and therefore is, I submit, a wash.

    Check out Jack Trammell’s op-ed in the Hook (www.readthehook.com) for the best description (my opinion) on why Lynchburg is so sure the so-called western “bypass” is a good deal for them. you can also google Steve Newman, VA senate transport chair, and he’s said several times to cameras that the bypass will create jobs. NO ONE, however, that I can find has asked him “how” it will create jobs or “how much time” will be saved so that manufacturer’s will decide to resurrect plants downstate.

    Perhaps you, Mr. Fawell, can ask your delegates and senators to look into this “bypass” project and he/she/them might be able to get proponents to make a good fiscal argument. I can’t. I’ve stood in front of them at supervisor meetings, asked the question at forums, sent emails and letters.

    Sec Connaughton did respond to one letter I wrote, all but saying (and this was the first time this issue had ever come up to my knowledge) that the bypass would make 29N much safer.

    Consequently, I got the safety figures from VDOT and there are about 300 accidents a year (this is a prior column on Bacons Rebellion and you can look it up for the exact numbers…don’t trust my memory) along 29N in Albemarle County, about 78 percent of them at the two intersections, Rio and Hydraulic which VDOT had originally sequenced first (see previsou comments). Working more with Jim Bacon’s brain than mine (I suck at math), we figured that building the overpasses would cost about $30,000 per accident prevented while building the “bypass” would cost $10 mil per accident permitted. Safety is another canard, I submit.

    In a previous comment, I explained how a local car dealer convinced businessmen in the North Charlottesville Business Alliance that the overpasses are bad for them — against all rational data — and, I submit, that when businessmen stop blindly following and start thinking for themselves, they realize that they “allowed themselves to be lied to.” That’s why, seemingly suddenly, two seemingly powerful incumbent supervisors got their butts kicked in the election. No business types were saying anything, and people normally expected them to vote GOP , but then a few of the facts began to sink in and they “saw” what you see, Mr. Fawell. They took a few seconds and analyzed what proponents hadn’t been saying and wondered why proponents didn’t want to discuss the highway on the merits, instead of attacking opponents as “tree huggers” or NIMBYs or (in my case) “comedic.” (I love that by the way).

    Middle of the road voters began to pay attention and they saw, I submit, that Snow, Thomas and Boyd simply had never argued FOR this highway and just expected that everyone would go along with the semantic term, “bypass.” Again, and again, and again. This “bypass” does NOT bypass our growing neighborhoods of Hollymead and Forest Lakes, plus does NOT bypass the area’s largest shopping mall. “Bypass” proponents (who quit talking about this in the campaign) originally cavialerly said that the state would follow this $300 mil with another $145 and actually get the road past these neighborhoods. Business types realize that with Uncle Sam $17 trillion in debt and about to default on an almost daily basis, that certainly that money will never show up and put two and two together. Hence, the proponents are out.

    Please excuse me but this will be my last comment on this article. By the way, Mr. Bacon has, in my opinion, provided the best coverage of this highway project and the process behind it.

    The bottom line: This highway IS as bad as you suspect, Mr. Fawell. I honestly can’t find a good reason for it from any perspective.

  15. Thanks for closing the loop on this for me. I’m going to check out the sources you mentioned, go back over past articles and comments here (including archives), poke around anything else I can find, and cogitate a while. This can’t be ignored, or left as it is.

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