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July 14, 2011

Supervisors outline local conditions required for Western Bypass support

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DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, July 14, 2011

After a four-hour public hearing on the Western Bypass, the Albemarle Supervisors remain unmoved in their positions on the controversial 6.2 mile road.

Over 100 speakers, more than two-thirds which were opposed to the bypass, packed Albemarle County’s Lane Auditorium Wednesday.
 
20110713-BOS-BypassAround 11 p.m., the board began its discussions, which lasted until almost 12:30 a.m. Each supervisor defended his or her June 8 vote, which by a 4-2 margin, resurrected the long-shelved plan to alleviate traffic congestion on U.S. 29 at a cost estimated between $250 million and $300 million.


AUDIO OF BOARD DELIBERATIONS
Listen using player above or download the podcast
:
Download 20110713-BOS-Bypass-Conditions

 “I think that the Western Bypass is important to Albemarle’s future,” said Supervisor Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr., who received the pivotal phone call last month from Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton with an offer to fully fund the bypass.

“It is an opportunity to relieve pressure on 29 north and make the road safer for all who use it,” Dorrier added. “We will be hurting badly in Albemarle County if we don’t do something about the road.”

Supervisor Duane Snow said nothing about the bypass was being “rammed through.”

“We didn’t make a decision to vote the bypass in, we just put it on the agenda so that we can talk about it and have the [public] hearings,” Snow said. “Nothing has been voted on and nothing has been decided.”

The board, meeting for the last time this month, started outlining a bundle of commitments they want from the Virginia Department of Transportation before the road project moves forward. Supervisors said that proposal will be finalized as soon as possible to inform two public hearings being held in July by the Metropolitan Planning Organization and a meeting next week of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.


Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, the board’s most vocal bypass opponent, arrived at the meeting with a draft resolution outlining conditions for the board majority to weigh, which if adopted, would require the state to fully fund other projects in addition to the bypass.

It also suggested VDOT would have to seek Albemarle’s approval of the final design of the northern terminus of the bypass near Ashwood Boulevard. The engineering and right-of-way acquisition for the portion north of the South Fork Rivanna River is incomplete.

“When you move forward without public comment and any real discussion, a lot gets left behind,” said Rooker in an interview. “Now we are seeing those things being dealt with, and that’s just backwards from how it should be.”

“I am troubled by a number of the people who support the road that don’t seem to have any concerns for the impacts,” said Rooker. “I’m certainly not a supporter of this road, but if the road’s going to be built, I want to make sure the community is looked after here.”

Snow also shared a list of conditions he said needed to be nailed down before he or Supervisor Rodney Thomas would vote as MPO representatives to change Albemarle’s long standing policy of opposition to the road. The June 8 decision gave them authority to do so and, in effect, negotiate on the board’s behalf.

While no resolution was adopted, the board’s suggested conditions included the following items raised by Rooker and Snow:

“To me the bypass is not the main issue, the main issue is getting those other projects that have already been identified that are going to greatly reduce the burden of traffic on Route 29,” said Snow. “The fact that the bypass has become a part of this, even though that was not on my original agenda, I can see some very valuable things that will happen as a result of it.”

Snow and Thomas met on Wednesday in Richmond with VDOT Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley and Deputy Commissioner Charles Kilpatrick, in advance of the public hearing, to start negotiating the language in a resolution that would be considered by the MPO.

Snow said the initial statement from VDOT was too vague and only promised to build the bypass, widen U.S. 29 at the northern terminus, and not remove funding from other projects.

“We said that’s not good enough,” Snow told the board. “Rodney and I told him that if we don’t have this spelled out exactly as I’ve told you, that we will not be voting for this, we will not be voting for the bypass — that’s a promise to each of you here and everybody else [in the audience] tonight.”

The morning after the public hearing, Rooker reflected on the discussion and said he remains convinced there is no need to rush a decision and that alternatives to the bypass are both cheaper and more effective.

“The combination of Hillsdale Drive Extended and Berkmar Drive Extended costs about $80 million, and that package will move traffic in the corridor better than the bypass,” Rooker said. “Given our [nation’s] massive debt, one would think fiscal conservatives would look for the least costly ways to move traffic.”

Western Bypass on Dipity.

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