The Route 50 Traffic Calming Task Force--a group working with state traffic officials to stop speeding along the rural roadway--has threatened to stall the project if it is not given enough input into which engineering firm is hired to lead the effort.
The task force, made up of citizens and local officials, has been closely involved in the project, holding public meetings and working with transportation officials to find ways to improve safety on the 20-mile stretch of Route 50 from Lenah to Paris.
But now transportation officials say state and federal laws may limit the role task force members can play in picking a design and engineering firm--a decision the task force says will be key to ensuring sensitivity to community concerns.
"For this whole process to work properly, we need the right architect," Jim Rich, task force co-chairman, said at the group's meeting Monday evening in Middleburg. "We want to make sure the task force is comfortable with the selection process.
"This is not a potted-plant task force or a rubber-stamp task force, but one that will implement the will of the citizenry," Rich said.
The project, which will be funded with federal and state money, could use such techniques as raised crosswalks and landscaped median strips to slow traffic across Loudoun and Fauquier counties.
On Monday, the task force voted to delay advertising to solicit design and engineering firms until it is comfortable with the selection process. The group also began work on a proposal for picking a consultant that would involve considerable input from the task force.
Commonwealth Transportation Board member Leonard "Hobie" Mitchel said state and federal officials welcome the task force's participation in the traffic-calming project, but he added that they need to be sure the selection process is in line with state and federal laws requiring that the designers are chosen by a "public body."
The Virginia Attorney General's Office has issued an opinion stating that the task force is not considered a public body.
Ordinarily, the selection would be made by the Virginia Department of Transportation, with the approval of top transportation officials and the board. Mitchel said officials worry that altering the normal selection process could result in appeals from firms that are rejected. Transportation officials also said they are concerned about protecting the confidentiality of sensitive information about each firm's proposal. The task force said Monday that transportation officials misunderstood their request and that they seek only to have some task force members involved in the selection, not to pick the firm as a group.
The attorney general's letter "does not say that citizens can't vote as part of that selection committee," said Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer), a task force member.
Although the task force is still working out details of its proposal, the group has envisioned creating a selection panel of three task force members and three Virginia Department of Transportation employees. Both sides said they are confident that a compromise can be worked out.
"I really think VDOT understands that community participation has been [this project's] hallmark," said Middleburg Mayor C.L. "Tim" Dimos, a task force member. "I do think they are determined to continue to make this a community project."