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November 10, 2011

VDOT delays addendum for Western Bypass RFP; Federal government postpones further right-of-way acquisition

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, November 10, 2011

Companies developing bids to both design and build the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 will have to wait a little longer to learn what new items the Virginia Department of Transportation will require in their proposals. 

A request for proposals was advertised in late September and an addendum that incorporates input from the public was to have been issued on Tuesday. 

“The addendum [to the RFP] has been delayed while VDOT reviews the resolutions received this week from Albemarle County,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for the agency’s Culpeper District. 

A task force convened by Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker generated more than two dozen requests for how the road should be designed to reduce the impact along the 6.2-mile route and its two interchanges. 

“I’m pleased that they are delaying it because it indicates they are seriously considering the requests we made,” Rooker said. 


The task force’s recommendations include a design speed of 50 miles per hour, at least $5 million in measures to reduce noise and limiting construction to 12 hours a day. Additional requests include $1.2 million in landscaping, $5 million to pay for bridge aesthetics and a request that stoplights not be used at the southern terminus. 

The Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution earlier this month calling for the recommendations to be incorporated into the RFP. 

A design committee formed by Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd also made recommendations backed by the board.

Hatter did not respond to a request for an explanation of what criteria VDOT staff will use to decide which recommendations will be incorporated into the RFP. 

Bidders have until Nov. 29 to submit their qualifications for the project. Companies that are invited by VDOT to submit full bids will have until next April to do so. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is scheduled to award a contract to the lowest bidder at their meeting in June. 

In a press release issued Wednesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell said VDOT will increasingly use the design-build approach to advance projects. 

“For too long, Virginians have endured traffic snarls and transportation delays,” McDonnell said. “By using design-build to speed our nearly $4 billion transportation investment to construction, Virginians will be able to experience transportation relief faster and we will create transportation industry jobs during this difficult economy.”

Another design-build project in the area is an upgrade of Interstate 64’s interchange at Zion Crossroads, which has a cost estimate of $8.8 million. That RFP will be issued in December.

Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a statement that the bypass has a much higher cost than any other proposed design-build project in the state. 

“It is commendable that the governor wants to save the state money, but using the design-build approach for complex projects like the 29 bypass puts the public at risk because it commits the state to a project before a design is complete and we know its full impacts,” Butler said. 

The bypass is the first design-build project implemented in VDOT’s Culpeper District.

New details have been unveiled about the bypass through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition

CATCO, which opposes the bypass, has shared those documents with Charlottesville Tomorrow. 

According to the records, VDOT had originally planned to resume purchasing right of way for the bypass, but were told to stop by the Federal Highway Administration in mid-September. 

“We do not want the acquisition of additional properties or relocation of any of the utilities to bring into question, whether legitimate or not, the objectivity of the environmental process,” wrote Irene Rico, administrator of the FHWA’s Virginia division, in a Sept. 12 letter. 

Download Download FHWA's letter to VDOT calling for halt to right of way acquisition

FHWA staff are currently conducting an environmental assessment to determine if an approval granted by the agency in 2003 is still valid. No construction can take place until their review, which VDOT officials believe will be completed next September. 

VDOT applied for $10 million in stimulus funding from the federal government to help pay for the northern terminus but were not successful. In the application, VDOT stated that the cost of the northern terminus would be $47 million. 

The records also reveal that VDOT has opted not to demolish two houses along the route at this time.

 

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