Common Sense or Delaying Tactic?

Map credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Opponents of the Charlottesville Bypass are calling for an update to the project’s 18-year-old environmental impact analysis.

by James A. Bacon

How old does a traffic impact analysis for a major highway project have to be before it gets so old that you should throw it out and start over?

To be more specific, if the traffic analysis contained in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Charlottesville Bypass is 18 years old and the supplemental EIS is eight years old, should the Virginia Department of Transportation conduct an update before building the controversial, $244 million project?

Ann H. Mallek and Dennis Rooker, members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors think so. And they have submitted a resolution, to be considered Wednesday, for the board to formally request VDOT to update traffic modeling for the bypass and consider new scientific research documenting the effects of highway pollutants on children in nearby schools before awarding a contract.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved $197 million funding for the project — on top of tens of millions of dollars already spent on right-of-way acquisition and engineering — and is moving expeditiously to get the project underway. However, foes of the project, who insist that the money could be better spent on alternate projects in the U.S. 29 corridor,  say that the project “is not a done deal.” (See “Battle over C-ville Bypass Moves to Next Phase.“)

“Among other items, the traffic modeling, the traffic estimates, the air quality analyses and the noise analyses in the environmental impact statements are now outdated and additional analysis needs to be done,” states the resolution. “There is significant new information that has been developed since the environmental impact statements were prepared, including new scientific research documenting the detrimental effects of highway pollutants on the health of individuals, and children, especially.”

“There has been tremendous growth around the northern terminus of the Bypass,” says Rooker. The largest residential development in the county, Hollymead, was not fully built out at the time. Hollymead Town Center, one of the county’s biggest shopping centers did not exist. Either did major employment centers such as the National Ground Intelligence Center and the University of Virginia Research Park. Also, although the U.S. 29 corridor was zoned for development in the early 1990s, he says, much of it has been rezoned.

“You’ve got thousands of people living there that weren’t there,” says Rooker. “You’ve got more vehicles in and around that area now.” Travelers through Charlottesville will encounter miles of stoplights and congestion north of the Bypass, making the project obsolete the day it opens.

Furthermore, new scientific research has documented the detrimental effect of highway pollutants on the health of children. That point was made repeatedly during public hearings by citizens concerned that the Bypass would run very close to six different schools. “Several states have outlawed the building of highways within 1,000 feet of schools,” Rooker notes.

The resolution is sure to inspire opposition from supporters of the Charlottesville Bypass, who argue that after nearly two decades of obstruction it’s time to start construction. Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, sees no point in studying the traffic impact again. What’s it going to change, he asks? A new count showing more commuters than projected two decades ago will provide all the more justification for the bypass.

“It’s not a huge leap of faith to think that traffic has increased,” he says. Thousands of commuters living north of the Bypass terminus and commuting to the University of Virginia or other Charlottesville destinations will gladly take the bypass to circumvent part of the congestion.

As for the impact of automobile emissions on child health, Williamson says, the EPA website says that findings should not be used at this time in determining road-siting decisions.

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11 responses to “Common Sense or Delaying Tactic?”

  1. Delaying tactic. The anti-progress contingent knows that the orignal eminent domain agreements will expire and revert to the original landowners in about a year. Everything they bring up is another red herring intended to delay the bypass to death.

    No problem. There are plenty of places in the United States to put your company and its employees besides Virginia.

  2. “But critics say the administration has little to show for its efforts, which highlight the difficulties of creating jobs in remote areas. They say the money has gone to areas where it is not needed, to promote broadband where it already exists and for industrial parks designed to attract business and jobs that may never materialize. ”

    And the never will materialize if PEC and company have their way.

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  4. Andrea Epps Avatar
    Andrea Epps

    “eminent domain agreements will expire and revert to the original landowners in about a year.”
    If the government went through the process and paid for that property, what ignorant lawyer would allow it to expire? I hope there is a provision that requires the landowners re-purchase that property. Once the property is conveyed, why on earth would it ever revert?

  5. if the property is “taken” with ED and then not used – it cannot be kept and there is usually a date certain…

    but in the past VDOT as not truly following the rules according to what is “right”. For instance, they wanted to sell property back to the original owner not for the price they paid but current market prices. The judge smacked VDOT down as it should have.

  6. the purpose of the DEIS is not to make a decision but to provide the information that supports an “informed” decision.

    a “stale” EIS or DEIS can mean that not only has traffic change, but development has occurred and likely does affect the original designs and probably in a costly way.

    I understand the frustration with the delays and would even agree that the motivation of some is to slow the project down but if you don’t address the changes that have occurred – then there could well be additional delays and much more money involved which someone is going to have to come up with.

    I still question the premise behind this because 29 north once it hits NoVa is worse than in Charlottesville and 29 in Lynchburg is not a full bypass and comes back in to urbanized areas…and then further south in NC around Reidsville, it’s not a limited access highway and has traffic signals and side streets..left turn s across the medians, etc…

    If Virginia actually had a “plan” for ALL of Rt 29 to make it a viable road of statewide significance – and Charlottesville was one piece of it… it would look a lot less like VDOT trying to ram the project through just in Charlottesville – and it would make it harder for the opposition in my view.

  7. Andrea Epps Avatar
    Andrea Epps

    I understand that if the property is actually a “taking”, but the vast majority of would-be ED cases end up as real estate transactions because the locality and the property owner agree to the terms. The locality buys the property. I can think of one time in the last 15 years transportation ROW reverted in Chesterfield. It was ED, and the property owner ended up taking the county to court to get it back.
    I agree with Larry on the plan for all of Rt 29.

  8. This is a pretty good and unbiased summary of the matter. Chase the link at footnote 10 for the actual state code on the eminent domain question.

    Also note that the federal funding is also at risk, although opinions differ on whether the funds will, in fact, be lost.

  9. You can take RT 66 instead of RT 29 through most of Northern Virginia. I see no reason why an entire, long road must be a highway of statewide significance. It depends on the alternates and that depends on the areas through which the road runs.

  10. a working definition of “highway of statewide significance” would be helpful and I’d say that if you can pick and choose isolated sections of highways to claim they are “significant” while ignoring other segments that have the same route number and are similarly crapped up then we’re corrupted the basic concept.

    roads of statewide significance imply a road that connects the state… not parts of urban areas….

    if NoVa can say that a crapped up Rt 29 has been replaced by I-66 why can’t Charlottesville claim that I-81 and I-65 do the same thing in their case?

  11. Andrea Epps Avatar
    Andrea Epps

    Groveton: That is a good summary, thanks!. The condemnation laws are different for VDOT than for localities but they are also similar in many ways. I am most familiar with the provisionss of 15.2, which explains my thinking on localities making a purchase vs. ED. Once a locality has “purchased” ROW, they keep it forever. Your point about federal funds is noted, although I also don’t beleive those funds will be lost. The code has many exceptions to ensure the property does not revert.
    If we really want to get complicated, we could debate the numerous forms of condemnation, and even add a vesting question or ten to the Rt 29 discussion, (have any of the opponents and/or property owners gone that “route” yet?) but my head hurts too much for that discussion this evening.
    Thanks again for the link.

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