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March 27, 2012

VDOT adjusts bypass requirements as bid deadline nears

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Virginia Department of Transportation has removed a reference promising to keep open the Ashwood Boulevard interchange with U.S. 29 as part of a new design for the Western Bypass.

VDOT says the change adds clarity about where the bypass connection will take place and that the agency stands by its promise to keep the entrance to the Forest Lakes South neighborhood open.
 

A promise to retain the entrance was detailed in writing in September when VDOT issued the first revision of a request for proposals for firms to design and build the 6.2-mile, four-lane highway. Yet last month in the RFP’s second addendum, VDOT removed a sentence that specified that the “existing access to Ashwood Boulevard shall remain.”
 
“The removal of the sentence referring to Ashwood Boulevard resulted from more specific definition of the project limits in response to questions from the project bidders,” said Lou Hatter, public affairs manager for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
 
Hatter said Ashwood Boulevard is just outside the bypass project’s limits following inclusion of new language that defines the scope for the northern terminus.
 
“VDOT remains committed to building the northern terminus to the west side of the existing Route 29 and to maintain as much separation as possible from the residential properties east of the highway,” Hatter said.
 
One opponent of the bypass said the change demonstrated that plans for the road were rushed after it was resurrected last summer.
 
“It appears to me that they have found that it will be very difficult or impossible to design an interchange that will function as required and meet that requirement,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
 
A map included as part of the RFP shows that VDOT has right of way extending about a tenth of a mile east of U.S. 29. Hatter said the language was changed because some bidders had expressed they may need to use some of that land for “construction easements or other activities relating to the project.”
 
Some members of the Forest Lakes Community Association are puzzled by the omission.
 
“I hope deleting the sentence about Ashwood is an artifact of their new sentence being added to note the limits, but there is no reason to strike the sentence,” said Scott Elliff, a FLCA board member.
 
“We do have our antennae up on it,” said Elliff, who is also on the board of directors for the Piedmont Environmental Council.
 
The language calling for Ashwood Boulevard to remain open was inserted at the request of a task force convened by Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd to provide suggestions about how the northern terminus should be designed to satisfy the concerns of the Forest Lakes association.
 
The request still requires firms to design plans to keep the northern terminus south of Ashwood Boulevard. The revision also adds language that would allow for a bridge to fully cross U.S. 29.
 
In September, VDOT engineers unveiled two conceptual drawings that showed how the northern terminus could be built entirely on the western side of the road. One of the concepts used a “diverging-diamond” to accommodate the bypass on-ramps. Such patterns can reduce costs by eliminating the need for a bridge.
 
The cost estimate for the project remains at $244.5 million.
 
The winning contractor will be required to conduct traffic studies to prove its design for the northern interchange can provide a level of service C or better, which means motorists will only experience a minimal delay.
 
The second addendum also states that existing U.S. 29 from Polo Ground Roads to Ashwood Boulevard will be converted into a limited-access highway, which means no driveways or other entrances will be allowed directly onto U.S. 29.
 
The winning contractor will be responsible for providing access to U.S. 29 for any properties that get landlocked by this process. Those properties will be identified as part of a frontage road study that the winning contractor will have to conduct.
 
A third addendum to the RFP was issued last week.
 
Nine firms are preparing bids and the deadline to submit proposals to VDOT is April 17. However, bidders do not have to submit a price proposal until May 3. The Commonwealth Transportation Board will award the contract to the lowest-priced bid that qualifies.
 

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