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November 17, 2011

MPO directs staff to turn information over to VDOT

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, November 17, 2011

A dispute between the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and the administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District was resolved Wednesday. 

The Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board voted 4-1 to direct Stephen Williams to hand over details of changes made to a traffic forecast model.  Williams said he was trying to protect the community from having the data misused to support unwanted road projects. 

The TJPDC hired a planner in 2010 specifically to refine and operate the model so it can be used for local planning purposes. The model, which uses a format originally developed by VDOT, is intended to predict what effect potential road improvements will have on the number of trips generated by motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. 

20111116-Williams
Steve Williams

“We think the model is in good shape to be used for forecasting purposes,” Williams said. “We have provided all of these materials to both representatives of the university and its consultants as well as VDOT’s district and central offices.”

James Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District and a voting member of the MPO, said he has been concerned about the way the model has been altered. 

“It’s important for the MPO and VDOT to agree on changes to the model and verify those changes and then go through a validation and calibration process,” Utterback said. 

“What I don’t want to occur for this MPO Policy Board is to end up forecasting and producing a number with a model that’s not agreed to by VDOT,” Utterback added. 

Utterback has been asking Williams to submit data files so VDOT can verify the accuracy of the model, but Williams has refused to do so until he has a written agreement that VDOT will provide an account of how their staff would use the model. 

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20111116-MPO

“I want to know that for any future use of the model, we’re going to have a chance to review it, because if there are errors in the model, we are the ones who are going to bear the burden of those mistakes,” Williams said. 

20111116-Utterback
James Utterback

Utterback said he had no problem sharing the information, but added VDOT was not likely to sign an agreement.

Because Williams did not comply, VDOT Commissioner Gregory Whirley sent a letter to Williams on November 14 demanding he do so or the MPO would lose some of its funding. 

That letter prompted an hour-long discussion of the matter at Wednesday’s MPO meeting. 

“If you take a vote that forces me to give them this model, I will no longer have leverage and I will never get the agreement I’m asking for,” said Williams, who expressed distrust of VDOT during the discussion. 

When Williams asked for the MPO Policy Board to formally ask VDOT to sign an agreement, City Councilor Kristin Szakos made a motion to that effect. However, it was defeated.

Albemarle County Supervisor Duane E. Snow then made a motion asking Williams to release the data, but also asking VDOT to notify the MPO of any changes it makes to the model as well as a notification of when it is used for official purposes. 

The motion passed, with only Szakos voting against. 

“VDOT has every right to expect to see what changes have been made so they can verify it,” Snow said. “I believe we should send the information that VDOT is requesting.” 

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Meeting called to order by MPO Chair Rodney Thomas 
  • 01:30 - Public comment from county resident Paul Grady on the Eastern Connector 
  • 03:00 - Public comment from county resident Randy Salzman on induced traffic 
  • 06:00 - Public comment from city resident John Pfaltz on a new county connector 
  • 07:30 - Public comment from George Larie of CATCOo regarding the bypass 
  • 10:30 - Responses to public comment 
  • 20:30 - Discussion of traffic model begins 
  • 01:32:00 - Discussion of land use and traffic model 


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