Commonwealth Transportation Board fully funds Western Bypass
RICHMOND — The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved the allocation of $197.4 million to the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 through Albemarle County, fully funding the $233 million cost estimate for the project.
“A lot of the big issue up to this point was 'we don’t have the money' and now it’s time,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
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The CTB’s 12-1 vote to fund the project paves the way for the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization to decide on July 27 whether to remove language from its transportation improvement program that blocks the state from allocating money for construction of the 6.2 mile four-lane limited access highway.
The CTB’s discussion Wednesday was centered on the fact that Virginia Department of Transportation has designated U.S. 29 as a “corridor of statewide significance.”
“Most of the developed areas along the corridor have a bypass,” said James Utterback, administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.
“Warrenton, Lynchburg, Culpeper and Danville and a number of other communities have built one,” Utterback added.
VDOT is upgrading other intersections along the corridor, including a $44.6 million interchange at of U.S 17 and U.S. 29 at Opal and $216 million interchange at Gainesville interchange with Interstate 66.
Until recently, both the MPO and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have consistently opposed construction of a route selected by the CTB in the early 1990s.
Dr. James A. Davis, representative of the Staunton District, said he did not know why there was so much local opposition to the project.
“The failure to get this done in a reasonable timeframe is an offense to the commonwealth and we need to figure out a way to do it that is acceptable,” Davis said.
Culpeper district representative James Rich said many in the community believe the alignment is obsolete because it travels through the county’s growth area.
“You’re not going through a cornfield,” Rich said. “You’re going through a developed area. It’s going to take [over] 40 homes, negatively impact 1,500 more, and affect the health of 4,000 school children at 6 schools. … That is why people are upset. “
Watch a video of the bypass route
Mark Peake, the CTB representative from the Lynchburg District, said if the debate is opened to determine another alignment, there will never be a bypass around Charlottesville.
“This has gone on too long,” Peake said. “They’ve spent $47 million to plan a bypass while we have spent hundreds of millions to build one for Danville, Lynchburg and Culpeper. … This is a United States highway, a primary road, and we have the money now to build a [Charlottesville Bypass].”
Thirty people spoke during the public comment period, mostly in opposition.
A former candidate for the Albemarle’s Scottsville District pleaded with the CTB to listen to local opponents.
“The bypasses in Lynchburg and Danvile actually go around those cities,” said Denny King. “This one goes through ours. … If we build this, we’ll be building another one in five years.
However, former CTB member Carter Myers, a longtime proponent of the bypass, said he can see long lines of traffic every day from his auto dealership near the South Fork of the Rivanna River.
“I’d say this location is in the right location,” said Myers. “Avoiding 14 traffic lights will make a difference.”
Both of the county’s representatives on the MPO appeared before the CTB to express their support for the road. Supervisor Duane Snow said his family was affected both by the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the bypass of U.S. 250 through Charlottesville.
“I can understand how people would get upset,” Snow said. “I think it’s important we stop studying this and start doing it.”
“I request the board vote 100 percent in favor of these projects and the improvements the MPO board has requested,” said Supervisor Rodney Thomas, chairman of the MPO.
Before a vote was taken to allocate the funds, Rich sought an amendment to defer consideration of the bypass funding.
“You heard most of the opponents,” Rich said. “This road dead ends into a growth area. We do not have all the right of way. This project is not shovel ready.”
Rich’s amendment failed, and the CTB voted 12-1 to approve the reallocation. Rich was the lone vote against.
On Monday, the MPO sent a letter requesting that several local road projects be considered as part of the group’s decision to drop its objections to the bypass. One of those requests was to move up construction of the city’s $14.5 million Belmont Bridge replacement by two years.
Connaughton was dismissive of the request, especially given that the city’s two representatives on the MPO have indicated they will vote against the bypass.
“Yet they send us a letter saying if you do build a bypass [on a primary road], also make secondary and urban allocations in the city of Charlottesville?” Connaughton asked.
One of the items on the list was funded Wednesday.
The CTB also approved $32.5 million in funding to widen U.S. 29 from six lanes from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead Town Center.
So far, VDOT has purchased 83 out of 122 parcels at a cost of $33.7 million. That figure includes amount for litigation associated with the condemnation process. Another $13.5 million has been spent on preliminary engineering.
The request consists of $7.4 million for additional engineering, $71 million to complete right of way and easement purchase, and $118.2 million for construction.
That brings total funding for the project to $244.5 million.
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