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April 24, 2012

Group pushes for public hearing on bypass

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 

A task force convened to advise the Virginia Department of Transportation on the design of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 has requested that the agency conduct a full public hearing on the roadway as part of an ongoing environmental assessment.
“Public input on new impacts and changed circumstances are crucial to mitigating the impacts of the project,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, chairman of the Jack Jouett Bypass Advisory Committee.
In a letter dated April 24 to bypass project manager Harold Jones, Rooker said the 6.2-mile, four-lane highway will be the largest transportation project in Albemarle County since Interstate 64 was built 40 years ago.
“We believe it is imperative that the public should be given an opportunity for real and significant input on this project,” Rooker said. “It has enormous environmental and construction-related impacts due to its location in the heart of the urban ring of Albemarle County.”

Download Download Rooker's letter to Harold Jones 

To comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations, VDOT is conducting an assessment to determine whether previous federal approvals of the bypass are still valid. VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said earlier this month that that process will consist of a citizen information meeting, but not a full public hearing at which comments would be entered into the public record.

“Members of the public will have the opportunity to provide comment during the citizen information meeting and during the draft environmental assessment review period,” Hatter said in an e-mail. “Public comment and questions have already been received through the two community task forces that looked at the northern and southern termini.” 
Hatter added the release date for the draft assessment has not yet been determined.

Supervisor Duane E. Snow, who voted in favor of the bypass at a meeting last summer of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board, said he would look into the matter.
“I thought that we were going to have a public hearing and thought that was part of the process,” Snow said in an interview. “I’m curious to know what VDOT has planned.”
Rooker said the design-build process VDOT is using to complete the project is taking away the ability of citizens to influence its design. A design public hearing for the project was held in February 1997, but its northern terminus was later moved farther north. The bypass was dormant for many years because the MPO Policy Board was opposed to its construction.
The last public hearing on the bypass was held before the MPO Policy Board on July 27. At the end of the meeting, MPO members voted 3-2 to remove language that blocked funding from being allocated to construction, ending years of local opposition of the project.
VDOT staff members are currently reviewing proposals from seven teams to both design and build the bypass. Those teams will submit price proposals on May 3, and those proposals will be unsealed on May 8.
However, none of the plans will be made available to the public until after the Commonwealth Transportation Board awards a contract to the lowest qualified bidder at its meeting on June 20.


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