Charlottesville, Virginia is a true stand-out in growth management in the South. Despite strong development pressure, this mid-sized city, which is home to the University of Virginia, has developed a growth boundary to help preserve its scenic natural surroundings and quaint, small-town feel.
After all that careful planning and forethought, it pains me to have to write this kind of story about Charlottesville — the unnecessary highway story.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization had specifically blocked funding for a bypass of US 29 as part of its long-range plan. But Wednesday, the MPO board voted 3-2 to overturn that decision and accept $197 million in state funding to revive the 6.2 mile project that has been sitting on a shelf for the last 15 years.
City Councilors Kristin Szakos and Satyendra Huja voted against the motion to approve funding, which came after more than 100 people spoke at the second public hearing on the topic. Roughly two-thirds of the speakers argued that the MPO should not allow further funding for the project.
Trip Pollard, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s land and community program, objected to being described as a “special interest.” “Obviously it’s a very controversial project,” Pollard said. “We have opposed it for a number of years because we think it is a wasteful and destructive project, and not because we’re a special interest. We think there are cheaper and better solutions.”
One person at Tuesday’s meeting asked if the widening could be done without the bypass, but [Supervisor Ken] Boyd cut him off and pointed out that the VDOT officials were not on hand to answer political questions.
“We’ve been told the money to widen 29 will not be made available unless there is a bypass,” Boyd said.
“We’re being blackmailed,” shouted a Forest Lakes South resident who did not want to be identified.
Surely the officials at the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO, with all the sophisticated planning they have been doing, are aware of the concept of induced demand. Maybe the promise of almost $200 million in state funding has clouded their judgment a little.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space reports that the fragmented nature of transit in Phoenix has resulted in out-sized administration costs. New Jersey Future asks why Millennials are attracted to cities. And Bike Portland reports live from the kick-off of the cross-country velomobile tour.