Another public hearing on the U.S. 29 Western Bypass is in the offing.
Opponents seek to use it as an opportunity to derail the project.
Opponents — and proponents — should be given the chance to speak. But sidelining the bypass at this late date would be a mistake.
The issue is so complex that there are almost as many ways to dissect it as there are Albemarle residents. Everyone seems to have a different version of the pros and cons.
But for now, let’s cut to the chase. In summary:
Traffic along U.S. 29 North has grown frustratingly congested. This state of affairs is as exasperating for locals as it is for through travelers.
To address this congestion, a western bypass has been under serious consideration since at least the late 1980s.
Originally, the bypass was proposed to swing well outside the urban-suburban ring. That route was vigorously opposed by landowners. At the same time, other community members came to believe that a close-in route would be more effective at pulling traffic off the busy business section of U.S. 29 North, and less expensive as well.
After hosting extensive and detailed public hearings, the Virginia Department of Transportation determined that the close-in route was what the community wanted. It began purchasing right-of-way for the project. The matter seemed settled.
You know what happened next. A newly elected Board of Supervisors withdrew its support. Then, those board members lost their majority: Pro-bypass supervisors were elected, and they reversed the earlier board’s position. Then that majority was voted off the board. Back and forth it has gone.
We have an almost evenly divided community.
A recent survey by the Weldon Cooper Center found a slight majority of residents (53 percent) favoring this bypass — while a strong majority (at least 62 percent) favors some sort of bypass. Opponents try to discredit the survey, but it was conducted professionally, in accordance with proper standards to achieve a meaningful statistical conclusion.
Opponents suggest we should give more credence to those public hearings at which protest against the bypass has been vociferous. They would have us ignore the fact that public hearings generally attract only those who are strongly opinionated, usually in opposition, and are not necessarily an unbiased reflection of community will.
Meanwhile, the merits of the bypass issue are being obscured by a misdirection of attention. Some opponents would have us believe that interchanges along U.S. 29 would serve as an alternative to the bypass.
We strongly doubt that interchanges could be installed without severe and costly damage to the commercial fabric of U.S. 29 North, the county’s “main street.” What’s more, such construction would cause major disruption to traffic. To minimize disruption, the community first would need parallel and alternative roads to divert traffic from U.S. 29 while interchanges were being built.
We would need Hillsdale Drive Extended. We would need Berkmar Extended.
We might even need the U.S. 29 Western Bypass.
Such roads would help alleviate some of the traffic congestion that would be worsened while interchanges were being built, which could last for two construction seasons.
Again, this newspaper is not endorsing interchanges. We are simply saying that to cast the debate as a decision between the bypass or the interchanges is to create a false choice.
This community needs traffic relief now — and we certainly do not need for traffic congestion to be worsened while interchanges are being built.
But we have a solution within our grasp, now.
The bypass has been on the books for more than 20 years. Most of the right-of-way is in hand. Much of the money has been approved.
There is no need to wait for parallel roads like Berkmar Extended or problematic proposals like interchanges, projects that could consume additional decades before coming to pass.
The Western Bypass will not please everyone. But it is a reasonable answer to an immediate need.
It’s time to move forward.