May 29, 2022: Charlottesville officials recommend steps to "reboot" transportation project management in the city to avoid losing out on future funds
Plus: Governor Youngkin vetoes seven more bills from the 2022 General Assembly
A cursory look at the traffic count for the only other Sunday edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement so far reveals that the audience for this one may be quite low. A cursory look at the backlog of stories indicate that there’s no time like the present for this May 29, 2022 edition of the program, packed with transportation information to avoid future frustration. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.
Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. Ting will generously match your initial payment if you sign up for a paid subscription! Free works, too. I just want you to know things.
On today’s program:
The city of Charlottesville warns of a slowdown in issuing new building permits due to staff shortage
A Charlottesville man has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in a May 15 crash on U.S. 29 that killed the driver of a second vehicle
Governor Youngkin vetoes several bills for which the General Assembly opted not take up his recommendations
Charlottesville City Council and the Planning Commission have been presented with recommendations to reboot transportation planning in the city after a series of long delays and cost over-runs
The debut of the audio-only Sunday Comic
Today’s first shout-out goes to WTJU
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out: Algorithms know how to put songs and artists together based on genre or beats per minute. But only people can make connections that engage your mind and warm your heart. The music on WTJU 91.1 FM is chosen by dozens and dozens of volunteer hosts -- music lovers like you who live right here in the Charlottesville area. Listener donations keep WTJU alive and thriving. In this era of algorithm-driven everything, go against the grain. Tune in and support freeform community radio on WTJU Consider a donation at wtju.net/donate.
Driver charged in May 15 fatal crash on U.S. 29 near Greenbrier Drive
The Albemarle County Police Department has charged a Charlottesville on several counts related to a two-vehicle crash that killed one on the evening of May 15. Twenty-two-year-old Cristian Alexandro Salinas-Perez faces charges of aggravated involuntary manslaughter and driving after losing his license after previous convictions on driving while intoxicated.
The crash near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Greenbrier Drive killed 35-year old Justin Tilghman of Charlottesville. The ACPD’s Crash Reconstruction Team concluded that the vehicle driven by Salinas-Perez allegedly was being operated at an excessive speed when it collided with the one driven by Tilghman.
Salinas-Perez was arrested Friday and is being held without bond at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Charlottesville warns of slower turnaround time for building permits
Staff shortages are causing the city of Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services to put a pause on building and trade inspections between May 31 and June 13.
“The department acknowledges the inconvenience this may cause and appreciates everyone's patience and cooperation during this time,” reads a press release that went out Friday afternoon.
That means “major delays” in the issuance of new building permits and new inspections.
The release points to the Department of Neighborhood Development Service’s website for information about the city’s policy on third party inspections.
“The 3rd party inspection policy/program allows substitute inspectorsto perform the daily inspections normally completed by Charlottesville Building Inspectors after our approval,” reads that form.
There are several open positions on the city’s jobs board, including Building Code Official, which pays between $73,474 and $96,096 a year.
In the meantime, the release states that NDS will continue to process permits and inspections as quickly as possible.
Governor Youngkin signs 23 bills, vetoes seven others
Governor Glenn Youngkin has completed action on legislation that cleared both Houses of the General Assembly in this year’s regular session. Youngkin signed 23 bills to which his amendments had been reviewed by the legislature and vetoed seven others in which his recommendations were rejected in the House of the bill’s origin.
The vetoed bills are:
SB182 and HB339 would have allowed the City of Falls Church to allow anyone over the age of 18 to sit on a board or commission rather than a registered voter. Youngkin suggested adding a requirement the person be “legally present” in the United States. The Senate rejected that requirement and another more or less on party lines.
SB474 and HB 614 would have dropped a requirement that indigent parties post a bond to appeal on an unlawful detainer. Youngkin would have allowed a payment plan to pay off the bond over time. The Senate rejected that on party lines and the House of Delegates voted that recommendation down on a 35 to 65 vote.
SB508 would have moved the administration of the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. Youngkin’s recommendations related to membership and what would constitute a quorum.
“This legislation will have the unintended consequence of fragmenting our coastal resiliency efforts,” he stated in his veto explanation.
HB384 would have protected state and local employees from being penalized for speaking on policy matters at public hearings. The bill is related to the firing of a teacher in Loudoun County, and Youngkin said in his explanation that he supports the idea in theory.
“Despite the positive intentions, the legislation has practical implications for the effective management of state government that may lead to significant confusion when state employees comment during legislative or regulatory public comment periods,” he wrote.
HB891 would have removed the term “alien” from Virginia Code as it related to non-citizens.
For the full list of bills signed by the Governor, read the press release that went out Friday afternoon.
For the full rules of how this works, consult Article V, Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution.
No ruling yet in federal case seeking Virginia House of Delegates race in 2022
Sometimes, no news is still worth copy. It’s been over three weeks since the last motion was filed in the case of Goldman v. Brink. Richmond attorney Paul Goldman filed suit in federal court last year against the State Board of Elections arguing that House elections held last November would not be constitutional because they were based on the 2010 Census.
Flash forward to now, when we’re just over five months away from when a House of Delegates election would be held if this case went the same way as a similar case in 1981 that led to Delegate races in 1981, 1982, and 1983. Goldman has argued the same principle applies, but first he still has had to convince the court that he has the legal standing to bring the case.
On May 5, Judge David J. Novak warned Goldman to stop filing new motions after a request for the court to allow consideration of the leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling that overturned constitutional protections for abortion was rejected.
Earlier this week there were rumors Goldman would file a motion to withdraw the suit.
Since then, there has been no action. As of this recording, the most recent document in the docket was Novak’s warning.
Today’s second shout-also goes to WTJU for the Radio Relics project
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: This year, WTJU 91.1 FM turns 65 and to mark the occasion, there’s a new micro-museum exhibition this summer!
Radio Relics traces WTJU’s storied history of broadcasting for our community. As part of our 65th anniversary celebrations, WTJU has curated photos, artifacts, and t-shirts – so many t-shirts! – spanning more than six decades.
The exhibition is free and will be open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from June 3 through July 29. The museum space is a renovated, vintage camper parked behind WTJU’s studios at 2244 Ivy Road in Charlottesville.
WTJU’s Radio Relics exhibition shows off some of the artifacts collected over the years, many contributed by former WTJU General Manager Chuck Taylor. In fact, there’s even a new initiative to raise money through the Chuck Taylor Fund for WTJU History. Contact General Manager Nathan Moore to learn more. Or donate today!
Special note: Today’s podcast version has a Sunday Comic. What is this? You’ll have to listen in to find out at about this spot!
Charlottesville City Council told of problems with implementing transportation projects
The city of Charlottesville has planned and built most of the transportation infrastructure projects within city limits since 2005. Soon after Deputy City Manager for Operations Sam Sanders took on the role last summer, he noticed there were some performance issues that require a total reboot of the way the city undertakes this work.
“Some initial assessments when I first arrived here was that the development review process within [the Department of Neighborhood Development Services] needed some attention,” Sanders said. “And in doing that work since I’ve been here I’ve discovered it was more than just that. It was also looking closely as the Public Works / Engineering side of the house.”
At a meeting of the Charlottesville City Council and the Planning Commission on May 24, Sanders said there was not a lot of institutional knowledge, and that there was a lot of work that needed to be done. First is to improve the city’s relationship with the Virginia Department of Transportation. (view the presentation)
“The second being evaluating our financial management of projects with our project managers as well as our budget and finance team, and as well as assessing project management capacity,” Sanders said.
The city has over $185 million in funds from VDOT that it has been awarded but not yet spent. These include four streetscape projects funded in the first two rounds of the Smart Scale process, five other projects funded in the second two, as well as projects funded through the VDOT revenue-sharing program. That figure also includes the $35.4 million Belmont Bridge project which is now under construction after over a decade of planning. The other projects still face delays.
Sanders said the recommendations would seek a “right-sizing” of what the city can handle. He said Charlottesville could lose projects and make it harder to receive additional funding in the future.
“A hatchet-approach would have been just to attempt to kill a projects and then try to go forward,” Sanders said. “Tonight’s approach is really a more surgical approach so we can not only get our arms around our challenges and reset budgets and timelines, we’re also attempting to position ourselves for a share of the massive pipeline of infrastructure dollars that are coming in the near future.”
City Engineer Jack Dawson detailed all the improvements included in that $185 million, and some of that money came from sources that no longer exist or can’t adequately be traced.
“Lots of our projects have been around for a long time and have sort of outlasted old grant programs, so very specifically the Belmont Bridge,” Dawson said. “That has a little bit of everything thrown in there. So some of the accounting does get trickier.”
Dawson described the division’s responsibilities, and I’ll briefly mention two of them.
Transportation planning involves making new designs comply with documents auch as the Streets That Work Plan, the Standards and Design Manual, and the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan. Another overarching responsibility is for project management, and the list of duties for the Urban Construction Initiative process is extensive.
“Request for Proposal and selection of consultants and contractors, accounting, grant management, reimbursement processes, consultant oversight, right of way coordination and negotiations and construction management,” Dawson said. “All UCI on those projects.”
This paragraph corrected after further information:
The city currently has four project managers, and each of them has 8.25 projects under their belt. Seven projects are currently unassigned. A transportation planner has been created in the Department of Neighborhood Development Services and that and other positions in public works are being advertised. The goal is to get the average number of project to 3.3 per manager.
Institutional knowledge at the top level isn’t great which is perhaps understandable in a city with a lot of recent turnover at the executive level.
For example, Dawson pointed to a project that has the name “Cville Signals” which is currently classified as a revenue-sharing program with funds that came from a previous project. This project has a $3.375 million estimate, but there’s a shortfall of nearly $2.2 million.
“How do we get in such situations?” Dawson said. “That was used to conceive to use money from the leftover Solutions 29 money which, I, I don’t even know what that is, but that’s what they tell me.”
Route 29 Solutions refers to a series of $230 million in projects that were planned and constructed after the Commonwealth Transportation Board canceled a 6.2 mile western bypass of U.S. 29 that had been a priority of the administration of Governor Bob McDonnell.
An unfavorable ruling from the federal government as well as a change on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors effectively killed the project in early 2014 and all of the funding was planned through a process known as Route 29 Solutions. This resulted in the completion of:
Leftover funds were recommended for future projects, including one that originally had the title “adaptive traffic signal technology.” The funding was authorized for that purpose by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in June 2014, but Dawson said there’s not a recent analysis of what the project is intended to do.
Since the Route 29 Solutions planning work done in 2014, the city has been through five city managers. None of the City Councilors serving today were elected before 2019.
And then there’s West Main Street, which started off as a $350,000 study authorized by Council in February 2013 that somehow grew into a $55 million project that has been defunded but still exists.
Dawson said the current cost of construction is making it more likely that all of these projects will have cost overruns.
“Now is a horrible time to price these things because there [are] just some construction materials that cannot be found,” Dawson said.
As part of the right-sizing, Dawson recommends several projects be shelved and put on hold and used for future applications. These are:
All four phases of the West Main Streetscape
The aforementioned signals project
Monticello and Ridge improvements
Harris Road improvements
Elliot Street improvements
Preston / Grady project awarded $6.1 million in Smart Scale Round 4
“We took the tack that we want to demonstrate to VDOT that we can complete projects,” Dawson said.
Dawson said the purpose of the projects would continue to be evaluate The Monticello / Ridge project, for example, would be addressed during the Smart Scale project for Ridge Street. He said the Department of Neighborhood Development Services will conduct a small area plan for the area of Preston and Grady before reapplying for more funding.
See also: Council moves forward with application for Preston / Grady intersection, July 22, 2022
In all, Dawson said the city will return about $12 million in Smart Scale projects that would be redistributed to other projects in VDOT’s Culpeper District. Dawson said he hopes this funding will be returned back to the city to deal with about $10 million in cost overruns for existing Smart Scale projects. That decision is ultimately up to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
The city will also turn over to VDOT administration of a turn lane on U.S. 250 that will be related to improvements for the interseection at Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29.
“We do as a city like to control our own projects so we can have input on the destiny on those projects and I do think this is a good one to ease the administrative burden on our staff,” Dawson said.
Keeping the pieces moving
Dawson is also suggesting combining the two existing Smart Scale projects on the Ridge / Fifth Street corridor into one, and adding the project that comes out the ongoing efforts to reformat the four-lane highway that is Fifth Street.
“While those have three different funding sources, we’re going to hope to combine them into one project and have a project manager that deals with those as one while we manage the finances in triplet to try and minimize overhead from a project management standpoint and maybe bid them all to one consultant,” Dawson said.
That’s the approach VDOT took with both the Route 29 solutions projects as well as a suite of Smart Scale projects that Albemarle County was awarded in the second round.
On Thursday, the city awarded bids for construction of two related projects on Rose Hill Drive and Rugby Avenue. Vess Excavating of Charlottesville bid $464,823 for the Rose Hill sidewalk project (UPC#108757) and Linco of Waynesboro will build intersection improvements at Rose Hill Drive and Rugby Avenue (UPC#108755). Linco bid $621,691.59.
Dawson’s boss is Stacy Smalls, the relatively new director of the Public Works Department. He said there needs to be more transparency from the city.
“We would like to present on VDOT project status to Council and the Planning Commission on a yearly basis,” Smalls said. “This incorporates accountability and transparency about our workload [and] the types of projects we are undertaking in what areas of the city we are improving with these particular projects.”
Smalls said the city will also move to create web pages for each project.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in volunteering for cvillepedia on that aspect, I’ll be more than happy to speak with you and get you moving. I’ve tried to keep track of these things for fifteen years now, and I hope that others will get involved so that more community members know how this process works.
Council will consider each of these steps officially at future meetings.
“VDOT is expecting us to move quickly,” Sanders said. “This is very coordinated with them to be able to get action taken by Council to be put in front of the leadership at VDOT so that we can move forward.”
The pieces will stay in motion, and continue reading and listening to Charlottesville Community Engagement to try to keep track of all the moving parts.
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