Monthly Archive for September, 2011

Earlysville Quarry is Back in Business, Noisily

Thirty-five years after it was closed down, a quarry just off 29N is back in business, Aaron Richardson writes in the Daily Progress, and the neighbors aren’t thrilled. Imagine you’re driving north on 29, past Walmart and over the Rivanna. There’s a traffic light there, for Polo Grounds Road, on the right. You can turn left, but virtually nobody does. That’s Rio Mills Road. I drove down there for the first time maybe five years ago. It’s a little-maintained road that runs right past a quarry. (Here’s a map of its location.) That quarry has been abandoned since 1975, but a Roanoke-based company has bought it, and they’ve got it back in business. Rockydale Quarries informed folks who live right around there that they were going to resume blasting and quarrying, but not everybody’s happy about it. The county has checked to see if the sound of their work exceeds the noise ordinance, but it falls within it. The property has a permit for the work going back to 1965, and the land is zoned for heavy industry. Still, some of the neighbors have asked the Board of Supervisors to shut down the business, asking that they review the permits and environmental impact, presumably hoping to find some irregularity.

I suspect that the moral of the story will be that if you want peace and quiet, you shouldn’t build or buy a house near a quarry on land that’s zoned for heavy industry.

Site Upgrades; Don’t Mind the Mess

I accidentally overhauled the technical infrastructure behind over the past few hours. (It was meant to be a small fix, done late at night to avoid downtime, but one thing led to another…) I’ve upgraded from an ancient version of WordPress to the latest one, while trying to drag along many of the features that were dependent that rickety old version of WordPress. Parts of the site are going to look funny and broken-ish for a bit while I try to massage things back to how they were. Then they’ll start looking funny in new and interesting ways, as I start to make many of the improvements to the site that I’ve been unable to make for years now. Thanks for bearing with me!

9/25 Update: Oh, and it’s possible to post comments now. Because that seems like a useful feature.

Democrats Out-Raising Republicans in BOS Races

The latest Board of Supervisors’ campaign contribution numbers are in, and the two Democrats are ahead of the two Republicans by decent margins. (These latest figures are current as of August 31.) In the Rivanna district, Republican member of the BOS Ken Boyd has taken in a total of $41k so far this election, to Democratic challenger Cynthia Neff’s $64k. In the last reporting period—the latter half of August—Boyd raised $12k to Neff’s $25k. And down in the Scottsville district, where Democrat Chris Dumler is running against Republican James Norwood for the seat being vacated by conservative Democrat Lindsay Dorrier, Dumler has taken in a grand total of $37k to Norwood’s $17k. $20k of Dumler’s fundraising came just in the last half of August, while just $4k of Norwood’s came in the same period. (Democrat Ann Mallek is running for reelection in the White Hall district, but she has no challenger.)

For those who don’t want to look at raw numbers, Aaron Richardson sums things up in the Progress.

Price of Western Bypass Doubles

VDOT’s internal estimates of the cost of the Western Bypass are double what they told the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. A FOIA request by the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition, a local anti-bypass group, turned up that VDOT’s own engineers did the math on the project in late June—just a month before the CTB agreed to fund the bypass bypass—and figured out that it would cost $436M, not the $197M that they’d claimed (and that the CTB allocated).

A 121% difference is a hell of a big omission. What’s the difference? Well, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton directed VDOT’s engineers to figure out how much it would cost, and they found a great many problems with the earlier, lower estimate. First, the price tag was based on a standard of road construction below “interstate” grade, which wouldn’t be sufficient—that added another $24M. Second, the earlier price failed to factor in that the road would have to go clear through Stillhouse Mountain and generally require a lot of earth and rock moving—that’s another $122M. Finally, the estimate for bridges had been low-balled—that was another $26M.

Charlottesville Tomorrow gave VDOT the chance to comment, and the agency’s commissioner tried out a few different responses: a) they don’t intend to build as good of a road as they designed, b) estimates are meaningless—it’s the bids that count, c) projects have been coming in 15–30% (but not 121%, presumably) below estimates d) there’s no telling how good of a road they’ll want until they put this out to bid…next week.

The real mystery here is how VDOT’s final estimate of $436M was presented to the BOS (or, more accurately, the four members of the board who held an unannounced midnight vote to approve the Western Bypass) and to the CTB as merely $197M. If projects have been coming in 15–30% below engineers’ estimates, then presumably the engineers’ estimates have dropped accordingly—presumably that’s something that engineers would have factored in as recently as June. Even then, 30% below VDOT’s estimate is still $152M over budget.

The question that has to be asked is what Sean Connaughton knew and when he knew it. And, of course, whether any members of the BOS had any idea that these numbers were wrong. More likely, they had no idea—the majority on the BOS rushed the whole approval process, based solely on Connaughton’s say-so. This could be a tough lesson for them.

Crashes Increased at Rio/29 After Installation of Cameras

Remember when Albemarle first started planning red light cameras to reduce accidents at intersections and lots of people pointed out that VDOT’s own studies found that they increase the rate of accidents? The Board of Supervisors didn’t believe that, and one year ago they put up red light cameras at the intersection of Rio and 29N. The numbers are in and—lo and behold—the number of accidents at 29 and Rio increased with red light cameras, Rachel Ryan reports for CBS-19. There were 23 crashes from December through July, up from 22 during the same period one year earlier.

OK, so the goal of reducing accidents didn’t work out. But this intersection was chosen because of the high rate of people running the light there—they’ve at least caught a lot of people, right? Nope. The county pays the first $10,000/month in traffic fines to a private firm (RedFlex, an Australian company) to operate the system, and not once have the cameras even brought in enough money to cover those costs. Still, Albemarle County Sergeant Darrell Byers claims that they’ve been effective. By what metric, though, he’s not saying. The county has a three-year contract with Redflex, and getting out of it requires paying unspecified termination fees. There are no plans to reconsider the use of the cameras.



You are currently browsing the weblog archives for the month September, 2011.