The short western bypass to U.S. 29 has been a matter of intense public interest for almost 25 years.
On June 8, at almost midnight, four of our fellow supervisors voted to reverse the board’s 20-year opposition to this project without prior notice to either the public or us and without taking public comment. This vote was preceded by a 4-2 vote (which we voted against) to suspend our own rules of order prohibiting voting on matters not included on the agenda. The vote on the bypass was taken based upon incomplete and undocumented assurances from one supervisor, who stated he had a telephone conversation with the secretary of transportation who said that the state would fund some other Albemarle County road projects if the board would change its position on the bypass.
The vote taken by the board that night did not include any reference to funding other transportation projects, and the county has not received any written assurance of this funding.
There is a document being circulated by several supervisors stating that public comment was taken on the bypass on June 1, which falsely implies it was on the agenda for that meeting. The bypass hasn’t been on a board agenda at any time in 2011, nor has any supervisor requested that it be placed on an agenda for discussion, public comment or vote in 2011 until we recently requested that a public hearing be held on July 13.
There are good reasons that the last two secretaries and commissioners of transportation decided the short western bypass was not worth pursuing after spending a great deal of time studying it.
There are good reasons why two of the best traffic consultants in the country, who worked on the state’s recent $1.5 million Rt. 29 Corridor Study, concluded that the bypass would not serve a useful transportation function and recommended against building it.
There are good reasons why the area’s current and former Commonwealth Transportation Board representatives do not support the project. Mark Warner, now U.S. senator, was on the CTB in 1990 and voted against the project, stating it was obsolete at that time.
Taxpayers for Common Sense and Friends of the Earth selected the project four times as one of the worst transportation projects in the nation in terms of wasting taxpayers’ dollars and damaging the environment.
At the Virginia Department of Transportation’s last public hearing on the bypass, more than 7,000 local citizens objected to it, the highest negative comment that VDOT had ever received at such a public hearing.
The bypasses in Lynchburg and Danville actually go around those areas, not through them. The proposed short western bypass would skirt a 5.3-mile stretch on U.S. 29 (which is six and eight lanes) at a cost of more than $250 million and would dump traffic at its northern terminus south of Hollymead Town Center and the county’s largest growth area. It would take more than 40 homes, impact about 1,500 other homes, impact 4,000 students at six schools, take 15 acres from the Albemarle High, Jouett and Greer campus, and run on steep banks above the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, which supplies water to 80,000 city and county residents. It would be nothing but a local commuter road with immense fiscal and community costs.
All of the traffic studies performed by the state have concluded that 90 percent of the traffic in the U.S. 29 corridor is local, and that local corridor solutions are necessary to move this traffic. For example, the Hillsdale Connector (which will parallel U.S. 29 on the east side) will cost about $10 million of public money and will take about 12,000 vehicles per day off U.S. 29 in its most congested area. The bypass will take about 15,000 vehicles per day off of U.S. 29 for about $250 million. Which one sounds like the best investment of scarce public resources?
The bypass would cause the greatest destruction of property values in the history of Albemarle County. If the state moves forward, by the time it completes acquisition of right-of-way it will have taken an estimated $50 million of property off of the county’s tax rolls. Property in the vicinity of the bypass (which is almost all residential and schools) could be expected to decline in value by at least 50 percent of that amount, causing a loss of another $25 million in taxable property. At current tax rates, the lost tax revenue to the county would be approximately $500,000 per year in perpetuity.
None of these facts has changed; in fact, the road is more obsolete today than it was 21 years ago. In times of incredible financial stress for governments, the last thing the state needs to do is spend more than $250 million on a road that all objective analyses have established is not a good investment.
We urge people to attend the Board of Supervisors public hearing on the bypass on July 13 at 6 p.m. and the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s public hearing on July 14 at 4 p.m. and voice their opinions. Both meetings will take place in the auditorium of the Albemarle County Office Building.