Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reflections on Charlottesville News in 2011

In 2011, there was a clear "story of the year" for Charlottesville/Albemarle: the Board of Supervisors' decision last spring to move forward with the Western Bypass. 

The triggering event was Lindsay Dorrier's change-of-mind based on promises made by Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton to provide state money for other local projects (if the County builds the Bypass).

Nobody saw this coming (except, I gather, Rodney Thomas and Duane Snowe, who were having the behind the scenes decisions with state officials).

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If you had asked me a year ago what the eventual solution to the congestion on 29 North would be, I'd have said (1st) the addition of overhead ramps along the road itself (à la Places 29) or (2nd) an Eastern bypass. I recall people talking about a Western bypass around the time I was in high school or college, but there was tons of opposition among the people who lived in its path, and I just wouldn't have guessed that local (or state) officials would be willing to take on that opposition.

I cannot decide how I feel about a 29 bypass, but I feel strongly that the current version (6.2 miles and terminating at Forest Lakes) is a mistake.

If a bypass is going to be built, then it clearly needs to go much further north. If it's not going to go further north, then it should be put on-hold until a complete version is developed. The 6.2 mile version is too much like my approach to certain household projects: starting the work without a commitment to completing it.

Based on his role in moving the Bypass forward, Ken Boyd was chosen by The Hook as 2011 person's of the year.

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Another big local story was the brief opening, last spring, of the County's portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway. Construction of the City portion remains subject to the environmental-assessment lawsuit, but the County has announced that its portion will re-open (permanently) in the near future.

Driving the Parkway last spring, I was surprised by how small it seems. I guess this is both good and bad: good because it leaves a relatively small footprint but bad if it ends up not being able to handle the traffic. The people living along Park Street sure must be happy.

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David Brooks has a refrain that the "good stuff" of American politics occurs at the local and state levels (whereas the federal government is dysfunctional), and I tend to think he is right. 

However, as the local road and water debates illustrate, the "good stuff" can entail passionate debate that leads to "winners", "losers", and hard feelings. That being the case, I give credit to the people who are willing to be involved in the public forum; a highlight of 2011 civic discourse for me was the well-contested City Council race.

501.  The big and obvious question remains: Does the Western Bypass in-fact actually get built in the near future? Or does it go the route of the Meadowcreek Parkway, in which case there's at least 10-15 years of delay prior to construction? I assume that lawsuits will be filed in 2012. I put the current odds at 65-70% that construction begins in the next couple of years -- I certainly don't think it's a done deal yet.

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