One of our neighbors, Fritz Berry, attended the recent County Board of Supervisors meeting regarding the bypass. I asked him to provide an update. You will find it below.
On February 19, 2014, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors called a hearing to ask member of the public for their opinion on the proposed U.S. 29 Western Bypass.
Indeed, the community did speak. More than 145 speakers addressed the (very patient) board, with more than 80 percent of them, by my calculation, opposing the current proposed design. During the meeting, more than 400 signatures were collected on a petition against the current bypass.
Primary Arguments presented against the Bypass:
- Projected road was designed in the 1980’s. Traffic patterns and development since then yield the dated plan irrelevant and ineffective.
- Both ends of the proposed road would dump traffic into areas that are already congested and projected to get worse.
- The projected road would not act as a “By-Pass” at all. Studies have shown that there will be no meaningful improvement in time saved for drivers who are hoping to bypass Charlottesville traffic in their travels North or south of Charlottesville on 29.
- There are better alternatives:
- Eastern Bypass that Starts North of the Airport and runs East to 64 – then reconnects with 29 south
- “Places 29” option, which has been shown to be as effective as the bypass, while also improving the conditions for local commuters – for less money
- The sheer cost to push thru a project that doesn’t accomplish its stated goal, is an irresponsible use of taxpayers funds.
- The Proposed road travels dangerously close to our primary water supply. The projected pollution would become a major issue and compromise our drinking water. (The tragedy in West VA was sighted as “a real time” example of what could go wrong)
- The proposed road would come dangerously close to 6 different schools. Studies indicate that the health risks, from emissions pollution, to the Children and Teachers at these schools would be significant.
- For those of us in Flordon and points West – the southern Terminus, as proposed, would create some major traffic issues and increase our commute times to and from town by adding a series of lights and cloverleaf intersections right at the point where we merge off of 29 onto 250 West.
- As designed, the merging traffic from the new road would be accelerating into our traffic, which is decelerating and attempting to Merge off of 29, creating potentially dangerous conditions for our families.
Primary arguments For a By-Pass:
- We need to do something… and this is better than nothing
- If we don’t get a bypass, we could eventually end up with a national Freeway running right thru the middle of our town
- I believe the majority of people agree that we have traffic problems that need to be addressed.
- Both sides seem to agree that the plan that had been proposed for a Western Bypass is NOT the best solution.
- The primary support seems to be coming from people who either:
- Have a business interest that would be negatively impacted by an alternative plan
- Feel that, if this plan fails, we will end up with no improvements at all.
*** Everything is now on hold*** See below for an update on the issue, which was posted in the Daily Progress Feb 20:
DAILY PROGRESS FILE
Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 10:05 pm | Updated: 10:12 am, Mon Feb 24, 2014.
“State transportation officials given 30 days to present Western Bypass alternatives”
by J. Reynolds Hutchins
State transportation officials raced against the clock Thursday to produce alternatives to the derailed Western Bypass of U.S. 29.
In a letter dated Tuesday, the Federal Highway Administration slammed the brakes on the project, citing numerous deficiencies, lack of local support and little regard for the growth and development along Albemarle County’s primary commercial corridor.
“Our legal counsel has advised us to reassess the purpose and need of the project in light of the changes in the Route 29 corridor that have occurred over the past 20 years to determine if it remains appropriate,” wrote Irene Rico, a division administrator with the highway administration.
In light of the federal decision, state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne accorded VDOT until March 19 to present alternatives to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
Rico’s letter casts doubt on the potential for a revived Western Bypass, or any bypass, and a resolution Albemarle County supervisors passed Thursday night requested that the state consider appropriating funds allocated for the bypass to other local projects.
Known locally as the county’s Places 29 Master Plan, extensions to Berkmar and Hillsdale drives, a widening of U.S. 29 just south of Hollymead and the so-called “Best Buy ramp” were previously approved. Interchanges at the intersections of Rio and Hydraulic roads are among unapproved but long-discussed improvements.
To date, the state has earmarked $244.5 million for the bypass project, which VDOT’s own assessments suggest will run in excess of those figures. Approximately $50 million of that amount has been spent on right-of-way acquisition and analysis for the road.
It was uncertain Thursday whether the state would be willing or able to shift the balance to other local transportation improvements or if the state could recoup the $50 million spent on property acquisition.
What is certain, federal highway officials said, is the option for a bypass remains on the table – if VDOT can find the evidence to support it.
A 1988 VDOT corridor study lists as many as 26 models that were under consideration before the state landed on the current Western Bypass design.
Those iterations range from a 16-mile “far eastern” bypass beginning just north of the Greene-Albemarle border and ending near the Interstate 64-Route 616 interchange to a 10-lane “Route 29 Corridor Expressway” beginning south of the Rivanna River and extending through the U.S. 29-250 interchange.
Despite coming out as the winning option, the Western Bypass for which VDOT began purchasing right-of-way in 1991 wasn’t without its drawbacks – VDOT was unrestrained in presenting its flaws to the highway administration in an environmental assessment published August 2012.
“The primary purpose and need for the project is not to reduce congestion on Route 29,” VDOT responded to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inquiry.
VDOT’s own numbers suggest the same.
According to a comparison of 2040 no-build and build conditions VDOT compiled for a 2012 traffic and transportation technical report, morning and afternoon delay times at Hydraulic, Rio and Greenbrier roads remain at unsatisfactory levels with or without the Western Bypass.
“The bypass has always been part of a collection of improvements,” VDOT told the corps.
Since the early 1990s, those improvements have included parallel road extensions, additional widening of U.S. 29 and at least one interchange more likely than not at Rio Road.
Vehicles travelling through the Greenbrier Drive intersection could save as little as 2.8 to 3 seconds if the bypass were built, VDOT estimates.
The time savings at Rio and Hydraulic roads are much greater, by as much as 1.8 minutes. Regardless, VDOT has accorded an F-grade level of service for Hydraulic, Rio and Greenbrier with or without the Western Bypass.
VDOT’s studies suggest an interchange at Rio Road could improve the intersection’s grade level, from an F to a D, and bring a time savings of three minutes for afternoon rush hour commuters in 2040.
VDOT presented these figures in response to inquiries from state agencies, federal organizations and private citizens; the University of Virginia and the Environmental Protection Agency and the Rivanna Trails Foundation; and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County.
In Deeds’ personal inquiry into the project, he remarked that the draft environmental assessment does not provide new traffic or environmental analysis of alternatives despite the traffic study that led to the decision to pursue the Western Bypass being more than 20 years old.
His words are almost word for word reflected in what became the highway administration’s Tuesday letter.
“Other alternatives should be reevaluated in light of all the new development and transportation changes along the corridor,” Deeds wrote to VDOT.
Deeds also emphasized the wide appeal of the Places 29 projects.
“The local community, working together with VDOT and the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO, developed an alternative transportation approach for the Route 29 corridor,” Deeds wrote. “This new alternative should be thoroughly evaluated and compared to the proposed bypass.”
In her letter to state officials, Rico contended that such an evaluation would reveal the Western Bypass’s deficiencies in comparison to alternatives.
“It is expected,” Rico wrote, “that a reassessment of the purpose and need will find that [the bypass project] is no longer adequate to support the investment in the corridor.”