VDOT’s Closure Data

At last Friday’s meeting between Free Union residents and VDOT representatives, agency Chief of Technology Research and Innovation Gary Allen began his brief response to the questions with the following statement:

I’m happy to provide every bit of information I have. First thing Monday morning, if you’ll give me a person to send it to, I’ll give you every bit of data, every travel time we’ve run, every test of a topographic area, the fifty years worth of national weather service data on falling weather for every location in the state, all of the financial information about the Culpeper district, the rest of the state if you’re interested — I’m happy to give you all of that information.

He and the rest of the VDOT representatives there refused to answer any specific questions that could (ostensibly) be answered by reviewing the data, and apparently felt that providing this data would be a sufficiently response. Well, Mr. Allen sent that data on Monday night.

Remember: This is the data that proves that Free Union’s VDOT location can and should be shut down and replaced. This is the culmination of months (years?) of research, the very embodiment of the classic traveling salesman problem of mathematics, a puzzle that is NP-hard, with no known general solution. So the mathematics should be impressive, the logic unimpeachable.

Here’s what was sent:

  1. Area Headquarters Consolidation Review Methodology Summary (27k), a one-page document that contains no data or even a mention of Free Union.
  2. A pair of maps of Albemarle and a pair of tables (1.2MB) indicating how long it takes to drive from a few area towns to other area towns.
  3. Their stock Area Headquarters Consolidation Review slideshow (568k) that doesn’t mention Free Union.

There are only two useful bits of data that I managed to extract from these documents. (Though perhaps you’ll have more luck.) The first is that VDOT judges that it takes twice as long to travel a given distance in “winter weather” than it does in good weather, and that they judge 45 minutes to be the maximum allowable good weather travel time. The second is that it takes 39 minutes (in good weather) to drive from Stanardville to Free Union, which isn’t really news to me.

So here is the sum of the case to be made that the area currently served by Free Union (Crozet, White Hall, etc.) won’t be affected by closing down the existing maintenance facility: hey, it’s not that far of a drive. Thanks for that, guys.

In a Sunday editorial, written prior to the Friday meeting, the Daily Progress described the fight to keep the Free Union facility open as “Cold data vs. humanity,” explaining:

As of this writing, a planned public meeting by VDOT in the Free Union area has not been held. New, better data may emerge from that meeting.

The value of cold data and statistics is that they remove the human element and allow decisions to be made on a strictly practical basis.

Unfortunately, there is no data, at least nothing to speak of. No new data emerged, no better data emerged. And VDOT’s representatives confessed in the meeting that the quality of service in Albemarle will decline as a result of this change.

So that’s VDOT’s big case. How will the hospitals be affected if their employees can’t get to work? How will the schools in the area be affected? Do many key public safety employees (fire, rescue, doctors, etc.) live in the area, and what will the effect be on delaying their ability to dig out? Isn’t the travel time from Stanardsville or Boyd’s Tavern to Free Union a little extreme, given the need to drive clear across the county for every refill on salt and chemicals? Why don’t we have a map of all of the roads in Western Albemarle that indicates how long it takes for them to get salted and plowed now and another map of how long it’ll take with the proposed change?

Where is all of this data?

Turns out, it doesn’t exist.

The full text of Gary Allen’s e-mail is below the fold.

From: Allen, Gary R.
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2006 19:27:38 -0500
Subject: Free Union–additional data

Mr. Rooker and Ms. Jaquith: As I promised, I am forwarding to you several pieces of information related to the review of area headquarters.

1. District-wide estimates of internal cost reductions based on the proposed plan: 13 positions will no longer be associated with the maintenance function. The salary load associated with that equals approximately $644,000 annually. Other additional overhead cost reductions if fully implemented = approximately $100,000 annually. Total estimated internal cost reduction = approximately $744,000 annually. Estimated salvage value of properties = approximately $2,000,000.

2. Estimates of internal cost reductions based on proposed plan for Charlottesville Residency, including proposal to close Free Union: 3 positions will no longer be associated with the maintenance function. The annual salary load = approximately $140,000, plus other overhead costs of approximately $25,000 annually. There is also revenue for the Charlottesville Residency, including the leasing of a chemical storage facility that will be used for Interstate outsourcing. This brings the total for the residency to approximately $215,000 annually. The estimated salvage value is $650,000.

3. A map and table showing estimated travel times to major intersections of primary routes that are key snow removal and chemical application routes, under both the current location of area headquarters staff, and the proposal to not include the Free Union facility in the maintenance organization. Also included is a table that shows travel times on the secondary system in the Free Union area on key routes (DURING DECENT WEATHER) from the Free Union Area Headquarters and from other area headquarters in the Charlottesville residency that could be part of a plan to serve the Free Union Community. The review makes the assumption that travel time in inclement weather doubles. That document is attached as an HTML document above. These travel time estimates do take topography and the type of roadway into account. As you can see from the data on the primary routes, there is no change in the response times on the primary system as a result of the proposal to not fully staff the Free Union Area Headquarters. On the secondary system, there is an increase from 24 minutes to 39 minutes along Rte. 601 to the Green county line. That is still within the acceptable parameter of a 45 minute response time. From Yancey Mill the response time along Rte. 810 to Browns Cove increases by 5 minutes as compared to the present-from 27 minutes to 32 minutes. The response time from Yancey Mill to White Hall actually is slightly quicker than at present. Travel times along key routes on the secondary can be reached in all cases in under the service level requirement of 45 minutes in good weather.

4. The presentation given to the Commonwealth Transportation Board describing the Area Headquarters review methodology. That is included as an HTML attachment above.

5. A summary of the review methodology.

I have copied Mr. Salahi, in case you wish to follow up with him regarding additional information or details about his plans for maintaining the Free Union area.

If you have questions about the information I have included here, please do not hesitate to call or send me a note.


Gary R. Allen, Ph.D.
Chief, Information Technology, Research & Innovation
Virginia Department of Transportation
530 Edgemont Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903-2454

4 thoughts on “VDOT’s Closure Data”

  1. And does anyone care about this? Where is Free Union again? Does anyone live there?

    If a chicken and a half lays an egg and a half in a day and a half. How many eggs will seven chickens lay in seven days?

    If you obtain data about traffic in a place that has no traffic should you put up a stop light?

    So this is why VA is the way it is.

  2. He shouldn’t have wasted his time with the figures and tables. It’s quite likely that everything VDOT used to make their decision is in items 1 and 2 in the email. I agree that a map showing a few towns and a list of travel times do not constitute data.*

    Item 3 in the email doesn’t make much sense and reminds me of lab reports I used to get from students who thought that blowing smoke could make up for the 10 minutes they spent on the assignment. He may as well have said “This project will save VDOT $650k” and left it at that. If that’s their primary objective, so be it.

    As a follow-up, I wonder whether this 45 minute response time is for good weather or bad weather since 1) it makes little sense to establish such a response time for good weather (do they hold snowplow time trials in June?), and 2) if it is 45 minutes in inclement weather, it appears they were failing to reach some points with the current configuration. It’s also entirely possible that I misunderstood the information, or fail to understand the heart of the issue. I live in the city and really don’t deal with this, but I empathize with you.

    *Foot-rant: The maps were not even proper GIS documents for that matter. I mean, the towns were plotted in MS Word using circles from the drawing toolbar. Give me a break. The drawing toolbar. He is Chief of Technology, Research and Innovation for VDOT. It wouldn’t disappoint me half as much if his title didn’t evoke more than the MS word drawing toolbar.

  3. Just a few reasons why I find VDOT’s case for closing the Free Union facility to be less than compelling:

    1. In explaining the anticipated cost savings, they claim that “3 positions will no longer be associated with the maintenance function”. What does this mean? It doesn’t say they’re eliminating jobs. It doesn’t say what they’re doing with these people. It sounds to me like bureaucratic jargon for juggling payroll from one category to another. How is that a cost saving?

    2. They claim that the salvage value of the Free Union facility is $650,000. Where did this number come from? At their forum, the claim was that it came from a professional appraisor. Despite Robert Allen’s promise to “give you every bit of data”, he didn’t provide a copy of that appraisal. Does his inclusion of the $650,000 mean that VDOT intends to sell their land in Free Union? Did the appraisal consider the possibility of environmental impairment to the land resulting from decades of chemical storage on the lot? If so, did it consider any clean-up costs? Beats me. I haven’t seen the appraisal.

    3. There’s a reference to “revenue for leasing and chemical storage facilities” – what’s that? Revenue from what source? What facilities? How much revenue?

    4. Although there’s an acknowledgement that VDOT would have to travel further distances to service the Free Union area, if that facility were to close, there seems to have been no consideration of the additional cost of fuel and wear and tear on heavy vehicles, as a result of that additional mileage. Was this factor considered? Why isn’t it included in VDOT’s data? What fuel costs are an appropriate estimate? $2.00 per gallon? $3.00 per gallon?

    Finally, as a side note, only peripherally related, I seem to remember that VDOT acquired quite a bit of land in anticipation of building a Route 29 by-pass. It’s now obvious to all that a Route 29 by-pass will never be built (at least not in the location where it was planned). Does VDOT actually own that land now? If so, what do they intend to do with it? That’s prime residential land, in the area of the Rivanna Reservoir and Garth Road and has got to be valuable. How about they get some of the appraisors to look at that land and consider the “salvage value”?

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