Second Thoughts on Charlottesville Bypass

U.S. 29 north of Charlottesville

The battle over the Charlottesville Bypass still isn’t over. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) must review its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), last supplemented in May 2003, to see if it needs to be updated. Now the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has submitted a letter listing 11 topics that VDOT could consider in that review.

The letter, written by Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission of which the MPO is a part, raises numerous issues that surfaced in public hearings last year during the debate over the McDonnell administration’s plans to resurrect the project. Among the key points.

  • “At a minimum, we request that a No-Build alternative and an Alternative that includes proposals from the join VDOT/Albemarle County Places29 Transportation plan, should be studied,” writes Williams. The Places29 plan, which would reduce congestion on U.S. 29 without the need for a Bypass, did not exist when the 2003 EIS was written.
  • VDOT needs to conduct an entirely new traffic impact analysis. Development patterns have changed over the past 9 years, three interchanges on the proposed Bypass have been stripped out of the design, and a link-up with the Meadow Creek Parkway has been abandoned.

Among other items, VDOT needs to consider the impact of the Bypass upon three schools that the highway would skirt — many citizens are concerned about the effect on diesel pollution on the health of school children — and the department needs to update its noise analysis and impact on the reservoir, wetlands, stormwater and the water distribution system.

The MPO letter is not some last-ditch effort by die-hard opponents to derail the project. This is the same MPO that reversed its previous opposition last summer, allowing the McDonnell administration to resurrect the project. Indeed, Albemarle Supervisor Rodney Thomas, who also is chairman of the MPO, has gone public with the idea of extending the Bypass on the grounds that it doesn’t begin to bypass all the congestion. Thomas was a key figure locally in getting the Bypass approved. Further, ignoring the suggestions of the regional transportation planning entity might not set well with the Federal Highway Administration, which has ultimate authority over projects within the federal highway system.

To my mind, an updated traffic analysis is mandatory. Over and above the points raised in the letter, traffic-light sequencing has so dramatically reduced congestion on U.S. 29 that it calls into question the need for a Bypass in the first place. Anyone accustomed to traffic conditions in Richmond, Hampton Roads or, god forbid, Northern Virginia, would wonder what all the fuss was about.

One final point: If the McDonnell administration is absolutely determined to spend more money on U.S. 29, perhaps on the ground that the citizens of Charlottesville-Albemarle should get their “fair share” of state construction dollars, then it needs to consider the alternative plan, Places29, that did not exist when the last EIS was conducted a decade ago.

— JAB


Share this article



ADVERTISEMENT

(comments below)



ADVERTISEMENT

(comments below)


Comments

  1. you’ve got almost a decade since the last study. A LOT has probably changed.

    the potential bidders on this project alluded to that in their comments.

    this is another example of VDOT’s incompetence ..fostered in part by their “my way or the highway” when it comes to environmental studies.

    and don’t mistake the name. a NEPA study assesses BOTH the built and natural environments and it’s the built environments that often change dramatically but VDOT likes to hand-wave those things with it’s Larry the Cable Guy ethic …. git er done.

    luckily the private sector folks involved in this have more smarts than that and are not about to get caught holding the VDOT doggie bag of goodies from hand-waving studies.

  2. I’m not sure it’s fair to blame “VDOT incompetence” for this. I don’t think VDOT personnel are pushing this project through. My sense is that it’s the McDonnell administration. The VDOT guys fall in line and do what they’re told.

  3. larryg Avatar

    the approach.. I’m familiar with. There are major agencies within VDOT. The folks that build new location roads operate with swagger and “my road or…”.

    Seen it happen. the Cville Bypass where VDOT is “wondering” if a decade old NEPA needs to be updated is classic VDOT new location road process.

    they don’t learn… they’re up to the same thing with the Western Trans Corridor.

    All they need is money to operate….

Leave a Reply