Did Dorrier Really Have a Deal with Connaughton?

It’s looking like perhaps Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier—the swing vote on the sudden, unannounced vote to move ahead on the Western Bypass—might have misunderstood the deal that was offered to him in exchange for his vote. In The Hook, Hawes Spencer recounts Dorrier’s remarks at last week’s meeting:

As Dorrier gathers his thoughts, he asserts that what changed his mind was a half-hour conversation with Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, in which the Bypass-eager Secretary allegedly promises that the plan also includes full funding for a widening of U.S. 29, as well as a new bridge to extend Berkmar Drive northward over the Rivanna River.

“When he said all that,” says Dorrier, “I said I would switch my vote and go forward immediately.”

But Spencer interviewed Connaughton:

Connaughton clarifies that his conversation with Dorrier did not include any promises about funding Berkmar Drive Extended or any extra bridge across the Rivanna River.

“The discussion I had with him was specifically about this project,” says Connaughton, further clarifying that he considers the planned widening of U.S. 29 the only other part of the discussion.

And then Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs went to Richmond to watch the Commonwealth Transportation Board adopt their highway construction plan for the next six years (one of only two reporters who bothered to show up), and of the $8.3B allocated, there wasn’t a penny for the Western Bypass. Tubbs asked Connaughton about it, and “he said funding for the project would come from reallocating money from other projects, but did not specify which ones.” James Rich is the area’s CTB rep, and he sure sounds dubious that it’s possible to do that.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker—on the losing side of the 4-2 vote—has his own theory as to how the retiring supervisor was persuaded to change his vote. Spencer explains:

Interviewed a few days later, Rooker too is still fuming, and he feels sorry for the 67-year-old Dorrier, who suffers from debilitating Parkinsons, a disease that has physical and sometimes mental effects.

“I think Lindsay is in an impaired state,” says Rooker. “I’ve observed in meetings he’s often confused. Do I think he can be manipulated? Yes, because he gets confused.”

But Dorrier recoils at the suggestion.

“That’s an opinion I don’t share,” he says in a telephone interview. “I take my medication. I stand by the decision, and I think it’ll be beneficial to the public.”

So we’ve got the guy who supposedly cut this deal with Dorrier denying that he offered the upgrades that got Dorrier to change his vote, and we’ve got the board in charge of allocating the money not allocating any money for this road. I’m not sure what’s happened here, but something definitely isn’t right. I worry that Dorrier got snookered, taking the rest of us along with him.

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