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September 29, 2011

County supervisors overrule city’s request for MPO to back environmental reviews and traffic studies ahead of Western Bypass contract

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, September 29, 2011


Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos failed Wednesday in an attempt to get the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board to take a new position on the Western Bypass of U.S. 29.

“I would like to make a motion that we call on the state to wait until previous studies are reviewed and the environmental review is complete and traffic modeling is conducted before proceeding on the contract to build [the bypass],” Szakos said.

Albemarle Supervisors Duane Snow and Rodney S. Thomas voted against the resolution, while Szakos voted for it. Though he seconded the motion, City Councilor Satyendra Huja left the meeting before a vote was taken. Virginia Department of Transportation administrator James Utterback abstained.

Snow pointed out that Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution earlier this month.

“We decided that the contract could be awarded but we asked that the construction hold off until the studies were completed,” Snow said.


Because the project was dormant for many years, the Federal Highway Administration is reviewing previous approvals to see if they are still valid. That process will likely not conclude until at least the end of September 2012.

This week, VDOT issued a request for proposals for a contractor to both design and build the 6.24-mile, four-lane divided highway through Albemarle County. The lowest bid will be selected by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in June.

The selected company will be given two notices to proceed.

The first will be given soon after the contract is awarded to allow the firm to begin preliminary design work. Right of way acquisition and utility relocation cannot take place during this period.

The second notice, which will allow those activities plus construction to begin, will be given after the FHWA finishes its review.

Utterback said federal law will not allow construction to occur until the environmental review is completed. He said traffic modeling will be one of the first studies to be completed and could easily run parallel to the procurement process that will select a contractor.

“Any modifications that come from the environmental process would go back into the contract and the contractor would be responsible for meeting those changes and conditions,” Utterback said.

Russell “Mac” Lafferty, a non-voting member of the MPO policy board, said he was concerned those change-orders would cause the project to increase far beyond its estimated cost of $244.5 million.

“I think it’s certainly a reasonable request that you don’t hire someone before you know the full extent of the project,” Lafferty said.

Snow said he saw no reason for the MPO to weigh in and that VDOT engineers will work with the selected contractor to lower the impact of the road and make the interchanges more palatable to the community.

“Everything I’ve seen is moving in the right direction,” Snow said. “As far as I’m concerned, as the MPO, I think we let things go the way they’re going.”

However, Lafferty said he was skeptical the design-build process would take community input into account.

Ken Boyd’s committee came up with some recommendations and comments and those were not included in the RFP that just went out,” Lafferty said. “I have a problem when you have a populace that came out 2 to 1 against it [at the July 27 MPO meeting] and we didn’t address a single concern that they had.”

Utterback said VDOT will evaluate input from Boyd’s committee, Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker’s committee and other sources and will include some of that information in an addendum to the RFP that will be issued Nov. 8.

Steven Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said the environmental review will not result in the project being canceled.

“An [environmental impact statement] never says that a project should not be built,” Williams said. “What it says is that there are impacts and either they are not significant, they can be mitigated or they can’t be mitigated and there’s a decision-making process with regard to what approach should be taken to those impacts.”

 

 

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