A Wasteful Bypass and a Better Plan

VDOT gave plans for the Charlottesville Western Bypass an F. So why spend half a billion dollars on it?

That’s the question that PEC posed to Charlottesville and Albemarle residents though ads in local papers and a mailing that we sent to 15,000 homes — part of our full-on campaign to stop this wasteful bypass from moving forward ahead of better alternatives.

PEC’s outreach to the media about the bypass — and the political shenanigans that brought this obsolete proposal back, on the fast track — has resulted in hard-hitting reporting by Charlottesville Tomorrow in The Daily Progress, NPR, and the political blog Bacon’s Rebellion. In addition, PEC has sent numerous email updates to our subscribers about the Western Bypass. Altogether, over 600 people have used our online advocacy tools to send a message to state and local decision-makers that they should support better alternatives.

Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, who is leading an aggressive drive for the bypass, told NBC 29 this fall, “This [bypass] is not the perfect solution… But the thing is, it’s the best thing we’ve got right now, and it’s ready to go.” That’s a weak reason to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s also not the case. VDOT’s own studies show that the proposed bypass would not fix congestion on Route 29 and that solutions outlined in the alternative Places29 plan would do more to improve the flow of traffic.

Meanwhile, internal VDOT emails reveal that VDOT may have been withholding information about the likely costs of the bypass–lowballing their estimates by as much as $300 million. When VDOT sold the proposal to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (which allocates state funds for transportation) and Albemarle County, they presented construction cost estimates of $118 million, bringing the total cost estimate to $245 million. But, VDOT emails obtained by the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO), via Freedom of Information Act requests, repeatedly refer to a construction cost range between $280 million and $414 million, which could bring the total costs for the 6.2 mile bypass well over $500 million.

If the state squanders hundreds of millions of dollars on the Western Bypass, it will become difficult or impossible to fund projects that would meet real transportation needs in the Charlottesville -Albemarle community. Instead, PEC advocates for the priorities identified in the alternative Places29 plan:

  • Building a network of parallel roads to take pressure off of Route 29
  • Improving key intersections to keep traffic flowing
  • Widening a stretch of the highway north of Charlottesville
  • Encouraging smart community design that requires less driving
  • Providing transportation options, so people can walk, bike or use transit

By improving the local street network, Places29 would addresses the source of traffic congestion on Route 29 through Charlottesville, which is 88% local traffic. The bypass would serve only the 12% of traffic that is passing through. And, even for through traffic, it’s only a half bypass that would end in a highly congested, rapidly developing area with 13 (soon to be 16) stoplights to go in the next 12 miles.

Half a billion dollars doesn’t come around very often. What do you want the state to build with it? To learn more and take action, go to PEC’s Western Bypass page.