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June 06, 2012

Board stalemates on pair of Western Bypass votes

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A split Albemarle County Board of Supervisors solidified their stalemate over the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 Wednesday with a pair of 3-3 votes on motions to both oppose and support the 6.2-mile highway. 
 
“Now we have a record for where we are,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, the board’s chair. 
 
20120606-Mallek

Supervisor Ann Mallek and the rest of board listen during matters from the public
Mallek, an opponent of the road, had requested the board take a vote on whether it officially supports the bypass. She said she did not think the board’s 4-2 vote on June 8, 2011, captured the board’s current position on this specific bypass. 
 
Rather, that vote was to direct the board’s representatives in the Metropolitan Planning Organization to remove policy language in opposition to the allocation of construction funding for the project. 
 
Supervisor Duane E. Snow said he was skeptical of Mallek’s resolution. 
 
“By having this motion put forward and then having it defeated, they hope they will tie the hands of us going forward because by the negative vote they hope to kill the bypass,” Snow said. The board’s discussion came after several members of the public expressed their opposition to the road. 
 
20120606-Kuhn_Emily
Emily Kuhn
Emily Kuhn graduated from Albemarle High School earlier this month and is concerned the bypass will damage the health of students at AHS, as well as Greer Elementary and Jack Jouett Middle schools.
 
“All three of these schools are within 500 meters of the proposed bypass,” Kuhn said. “Not only can I not imagine going through 12 years of school within a road of that size, but studies have shown that children who are exposed to air pollution from roads on a regular basis can have lung problems in the future.” 
 
Other opponents questioned the presence of redacted information in VDOT’s draft financial plan. 
 
VDOT is not releasing the projected estimate to complete the acquisition of land for the right-of-way,” said Albemarle resident Elly Tucker. “VDOT also removed projected costs for landscaping and other unknowns such as the cost for VDOT to oversee the project.”
 
Other speakers said Albemarle should instead be implementing the transportation improvements called for in the Places29 Master Plan
 
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd countered that local support for the bypass depended on VDOT also funding at least some of the Places29 projects. 
 
“It’s been put on the table to widen U.S. 29, it’s been put on the table to complete Hillsdale Drive Extended… [and the Belmont] bridge in the city,” Boyd said. “These are all promises that were made to us by [Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton] and he’s bringing them to fruition.”
 
Boyd said a vote against the bypass would be a vote against funding those projects as well. 
 
“If we vote against this bypass then we are basically voting against Places29 too,” Boyd said. “This money will all go away… This was a proposal made by the state to give us the money to finish the bypass.” 
 
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he felt the county is being blackmailed to take the bypass in order to have other projects funded. 
 
“I don’t think that given all the list of negatives that [the bypass] brings, that simply accelerating other projects makes it make sense,” Rooker said. 
 
He also pointed out that governors change and the next administration may have other transportation priorities. 
 
Mallek’s initial motion failed on a 3-3 vote with Rooker and Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler joining her in opposition to the bypass. Then, to counter, Boyd made a motion of his own relating to the MPO’s support for the bypass.
 
That motion also deadlocked on a 3-3 vote with Snow and Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas joining Boyd to vote to maintain the bypass as a priority for the MPO. In the absence of a fourth vote on either motion, Albemarle’s 2011 policy position allowing the bypass to proceed remains unchanged, though the current split in support by the board is now clearly documented.
 
The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected on June 20 to award a $136 million design-build contract to Skanska-Branch of Virginia Beach. The CTB will also decide whether to allocate additional funding for Hillsdale Drive Extended and the Belmont Bridge.
 

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