Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Uncivil Discourse on the Downtown Mall

I along with two other former members of Charlottesville City Council held a press conference to raise the issue of paying attention to consequences of decisions and specifically to address our concerns about the fiscal implications of reversing the Council position about building the Meadowcreek Parkway. We were greeted by a group opposing the Parkway, several of whom kept interrupting and shouting as I tried to read our statement. I feel very sad about the lack of civil discourse, especially since many of these same people have been friends of mine and have been quite vocal (without interruptions) in speaking their minds on this and other issues. Below I print what I tried to say over their shouts.

As you can see, most of us are former City officials. All of us have been deeply involved in the life of this city over several decades.

We are here -- in advance of the City Council firehouse primary on Saturday -- because we know from experience that City Council members make important decisions that have consequences on our lives and pocketbooks.

Some in the council campaign have raised the issue of reversing the decision on constructing the Meadowcreek parkway.

Regardless of one’s personal stance on the Meadowcreek Parkway, the City Council has made and reaffirmed its decision to build the road. In fact, the County has completed its portion.

Yet City Council candidates who have announced they would reverse this decision have yet to discuss the financial implications of not building the roadway.

Those here today have varying opinions about the wisdom, the alignment and other specifics of the parkway. It is one thing to have a personal opinion. It is another when those opinions get translated into decisions, for decisions – unlike opinions -- have consequences.

What would be the consequences for the citizens of Charlottesville if the decision on building the Parkway were reversed?

A major consequence is $13.4 million.

Thus far, this amount of taxpayer funds -- $13.4 million -- has been spent for preliminary engineering and right of way for the Parkway and the Interchange.

Reversing the city’s stance and removal of the road from the City’s Transportation Plan would result in the city being required, by statute, to repay $13.4 million in taxpayer dollars to the state and federal governments. The VDOT Board may waive this requirement, which seems highly unlikely under today’s shortfalls in transportation dollars. Decisions likely would be reviewed on an individual basis.

The reimbursement requirement is part of VDOT's standard agreement with cities who request urban transportation projects. It is included in Charlottesville's agreement with VDOT about the MCP. The General Assembly placed this mandate in the state code in order to protect state taxpayers from arbitrary decision-making when a project is requested, millions of public dollars are spent on planning and right-of-way, and then it is cancelled. Yes, the project can be cancelled, but not at the expense of other transportation projects that might have been funded with this money. The locality is held responsible for refunding the money. We know of one city Alexandria which repaid $1 million dollars for a cancelled project.

Another consequence is that if the City were to balk at this repayment, the Virginia Department of Transportation could withhold funds from the City in the amount of this reimbursement, thus putting off for years, if not decades, other important City projects such as Hillsdale Drive, Belmont Bridge and Ramp Improvements at 29/250 interchange.

Yes, decisions have consequences.

We here care about our city and we believe the candidates do also. We know from experience that our citizens care about Charlottesville AND her fiscal condition.

Yet, it is clear – when one is elected to Council, individual views, if translated into action, have consequences. We believe the voters would want to know how the candidates would deal with these consequences. Where would they find the money to reimburse the millions in state and federal tax dollars that have been spent at the city's request on planning, engineering and right-of-way for the MCP and the interchange? How could they justify a request for the CTB to waive the requirement to repay $13.4 million

All signs are that, in the present fiscal situation and with the severe shortage of transportation funds, the state would indeed require repayment of these funds, either from the city's general fund or from transportation allocations for future projects.

Thus, we urge all candidates to clarify any statements that they have made reversing the decision on the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Likewise, we urge all citizens voting in Saturday’s primary (or in the absentee voting on Thursday evening) to be aware of and think about the fiscal consequences of reversing previous parkway decisions, and to ask this question of their candidates: "Where will Charlottesville find approximately $13.4 million to reimburse VDOT for cancelling the project?" (That, incidentally, is about $788 per city household.)

Thank you. We are glad to take questions as a group, and we refer you also to the VDOT District office. We do have a handout citing the Virginia statute that deals with repayment.

Prelim. Eng. (PE) $3,700 Complete
Right of Way (RW) $0 N/A

Prelim. Eng. (PE) $3,871 Complete
Right of Way (RW) $5,867 Complete

Total PE and ROW for MRE and Interchange $13.438 million

Charlottesville 2010 census stats 2005-2009 # Charlottesville Households = 17,037.
$13,438,000 reimbursement/17,037 households = $788.75 per household

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