February 19, 2014
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution aimed at defunding the proposed Route 29 Western Bypass and putting that money to use on other traffic projects.
The board voted 5 to 1 to support the resolution, which reestablishes the board's opposition to the bypass.
Supervisor and longtime bypass backer Ken Boyd was the only "no" vote.
"It's just not normal that we would have a resolution proposed two days before we go into a meeting that's not been at least looked at by our staff," Boyd told the board.
Despite Boyd questioning the validity of some of the information in the proposed resolution, the rest of the supervisors appeared eager to move it forward.
"This is the first step that we needed to take," supervisor Diantha McKeel, who proposed the resolution on Monday, said after Wednesday's vote. "I think it's time to see if we can get our community together again. I think we need to work for positive solutions for our traffic problem, and I think that's what we did tonight."
The resolution does not ask to terminate the project but rather requests Governor Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne and the Commonwealth Transportation Board to redirect funding currently set aside for the Western Bypass to the following projects and see that they are completed as soon as possible:
- Berkmar Drive Extended (including a bridge across the Rivanna River);
- Any additional expenses for widening US 29 to six lanes from Polo Grounds Road north to Town Center Drive to cover the portion between Polo Grounds Road and Ashwood Boulevard;
- The Hillsdale Drive Extension and the Best Buy ramp project, if additional funds are needed for their completion; and
- A study of various options for imrpoving the Rio Road/US 29 and Hydraulic Road/US 29 intersections.
The vote came after a public hearing that spanned more than five hours. Well over 100 county residents signed up to take to the podium to convince supervisors their stance was the right one on the road project. The vast majority spoke against the bypass, many advocating looking into alternative transportation solutions.
Shortly before the hearing, news of the federal government's criticism of the bypass project was made known. In a letter sent Tuesday to the Virginia Department of Transportation, an administrator with the Federal Highway Administrator urges VDOT to assess the need for the project and consider alternatives.
Supervisors say they need more time to interpret what the letter means before jumping to any conclusions.
"Of course, we have to figure out exactly what that means. It looks like they're wanting environmental assessments done. They feel like the project may very well be outdated, but until we really have our lawyers take a look at what the letter means, that remains the next step -- announcing to the public what the letter's really all about," said McKeel.
Anti-bypass groups are considering the FHWA's letter a win for them.
"It's a very big deal. I mean, this is the exact thing the Southern Environmental Law Center has been arguing all along, that they have to be looking at alternatives," said SELC senior attorney Morgan Butler told The Newsplex before the public hearing. "This project is outdated and no longer serves the purpose it was meant to. The Federal Highway Administration has backed that up. That's very big news."
The Southern Environmental Law Center released this statement following the board's vote:
Charlottesville Bypass Dealt Heavy Blow
Federal and Local Officials Boost Alternatives
Charlottesville, VA – The damaging Charlottesville bypass proposal was dealt a devastating one-two punch today. First, the Federal Highway Administration informed the state in a letter that the environmental assessment VDOT submitted late last year is inadequate and that alternatives must be evaluated. Further, the letter strongly suggests that the bypass does not meet the needs of today's Route 29 corridor, and that the state should develop a different and more effective solution that the public and localities can support. These are both arguments that SELC has been making since the controversial proposal was abruptly revived in 2011.
Then tonight at a special public hearing called by the new Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Board passed a resolution by a 5-1 vote reinstating the Board's opposition to the bypass and its support for the improvements in the Places 29 master plan. Citizens at the hearing overwhelmingly opposed the bypass – over 400 attendees signed a petition opposing the bypass and citizens spoke against it by a 5:1 ratio.
“This is great news for a community that refused to accept that the proposed bypass was a done deal,” SELC Senior Attorney Morgan Butler said. “With the County's opposition once again made clear, and with the federal government raising serious doubts about whether the proposal makes sense, the only rational decision for the state now is to nix the proposal once and for all and move forward with better solutions.”