In our last newsletter, we shared great news regarding the demise of the ill-conceived Western Bypass. As you might recall, a major blow to the project had been delivered back in February, when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced serious reservations about the viability of the project. It made it clear that the necessary federal approvals were indoubt unless VDOT reevaluated the entire project, including a new review of alternatives.
Within a day of the FHWA statement, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors reinstated their opposition to the bypass and requested that VDOT fund several of the improvement projects recommended in the Places29 plan.
Then, in early spring, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne called on former VDOT commissioner Philip Shucet to convene a panel of stakeholders to discuss and reach aconsensus on alternative projects to improve state, regional and local traffic movement on Route 29.
After receiving the panel’s recommendations earlier this summer, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to remove all funds for the Western Bypass from VDOT’s current Six-Year Improvement Plan and to fully fund the proposed alternatives instead. VDOT received instructions to immediately begin all necessary planning, design, property acquisition and construction for the alternative improvements.
Currently, the approximately $230-million package of alternatives includes:
From the current Six-Year Plan
- Route 29 Widening Project (Town Center Drive to Polo Grounds Road).
- Best Buy Ramp project (Route 29 and US 250 Interchange).
- Hillsdale Drive Extended (Greenbrier Drive to Hydraulic Road).
- Adaptive Signal Time Improvements in the Route 29 Corridor (Airport Road to Hydraulic Road; signals at Angus Road/Route 29, Morton Drive/Emmet Street, and Hydraulic Road/Hillsdale Drive are also included in the project)
- Berkmar Drive Extended (Town Center Drive to Hilton Heights Road).
- Route 29/Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange.
- Route 29/Hydraulic Road Grade Separated Interchange (Preliminary Engineering Only).
- Adding a second AMTRAK train between Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Washington, D.C. each day.
Charlottesville Tomorrow reported that: VDOT is preparing to select a contractor to design and build the $81 million interchange at Rio Road and Route 29, the $54 million extension of Berkmar Drive to Hollymead Town Center, and the $51 million widening of Route 29 to six lanes between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center.
Philip A. Shucet, the former VDOT commissioner that heads the Route 29 panel that is focusing on the alternative solutions to the bypass, is pushing to have a contractor selected by March 2015. In July 2015, the designs for roads and bridges will be reviewed with the hopes that plans are approved in August 2015.
Regarding the Berkmar Drive Extension project, VDOT is holding a hearing to receive commenton three possible routes on September 18. Pending the outcome of that hearing, on October 15, VDOT will seek an approval from the CTB for the final alignment. On October 14, from 5-7 pm at Albemarle High School, VDOT will hold an open house style public hearing on the proposed designs for three of the Route 29 Solutions projects: the widening of Route 29 north of the river from Polo Grounds Road to the Hollymead Towncenter, the extension of Berkmar Drive, and the improvements at the Rio Road and Route 29 inter-section.
VDOT anticipates completing work at the Rio Road interchange by sometime in 2016. Berkmar Drive Extended, which crosses the South Fork Rivanna River, and the Widening of Route 29 that’s north of the river are both slated to be completed at some point in 2017. To follow progress on these projects and get additional information, go to VDOT’s Route 29 Solutions web link: virginiadot.org/projects/route_29_solutions.asp
We are elated that the state is moving forward with a plan that no longer includes the Western Bypass. But there’s still work to be done before we cross the finish line. VDOT still hasn’t announced plans for selling the approximately $40 million worth of right-of-way it acquired for the bypass. VDOT and state officials have publicly stated there is no transportation project for which the property is needed, but until VDOT sells those parcels, we remain wary of future efforts to resurrect the bypass.
Furthermore, while the CTB has removed and reallocated all funding for the bypass, the project will remain as a line item in VDOT’s 2040 Long-Range Transportation Plan and currentTransportation Improvement Plan. This clerical step is reportedly necessary to allow “for the project’s resolution,” specifically the resale of the purchased right-of-way.
We still have work ahead to ensure the improvements on Route 29 stay on track.
Here’s what to do next:
- Be ready to attend upcoming VDOT location and design hearings on the various projects and express support for VDOT moving forward. For example, attend the October 14 public hearing.
- Press VDOT and Secretary Layne to sell the bypass right-of-way. It’s time to move forward with the now approved alternatives and to remove the specter of the bypass. They need to sell the right-of-way and direct those funds to much needed transportation improvements.
- Support the local business community, especially during those times when construction causes disruptions to traffic.
- Continue to voice your support for the package of alternatives and their timely implementation to the Board of Supervisors. . Go to virginiadot.org/projects/route_29_feedback.asp, and let Mr. Shucet and the Route 29 Advisory Panel know that you support the package of approved alternatives as an excellent opportunity for real cost-effective solutions for Route 29.
- Send a note to Governor McAuliffe and Secretary Layne to thank them for their leadership, action and commitment to real, cost-effective solutions for Route 29.
“Since the 1980’s, PEC has researched and supported alternatives to the Western Bypass. We are excited that many of those suggestions are being acted on and remain committed to full implementation,” said PEC President Chris Miller.
PEC has never been alone in this fight. We are thankful for the community’s commitment and the effort of our partners, which include SELC, CATCO, ASAP, the Sierra Club and the League of Woman Voters.
This article was featured in our Fall 2014 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.