Army Corps Questions Benefits of Route 29 Western Bypass

December 12, 2012

A delay could be in store for beginning construction on the Route 29 Western Bypass following a letter from a government agency expressing concerns about the road's benefits.

In an eight-page letter to VDOT obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow, the Army Corps of Engineers outlined a list of concerns.

In order to build the 6.2-mile bypass, the commonwealth needs federal approval. The Corps of Engineers joins the federal Environmental Protection Agency in saying previous assessments done in 1993 and 2003 are not conclusive.

"The reason it took 20 years to get where we are now are because of all the delays and restudying and restudying and restudying we did," Albemarle County supervisor Ken Boyd said. "It's time to quit studying and get it done."

The preliminary report also says there's no evidence the bypass will relieve traffic congestion on business Route 29.

"I think that's one of the main points that the Corps of Engineers is making is, 'Look, we're about to invest this much money in a project that's not going to be that effective while there appear to be better, less destructive alternatives on the table,'" said Morgan Butler, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The SELC is an opponent of the bypass construction.

"One of the things that I feel like is happening is that they're sort of legislating against the will of the people. Obviously, the majority of people want that bypass," Boyd said.

Boyd said he believed there is a lot of "political posturing" by state and federal agencies to prevent the bypass construction. Opponents say there are alternatives to the road, like fixing traffic problems on business Route 29.

"We need to make sure to be taking a look at those alternatives before we invest this amount of money on a project that's not going to bring many benefits," Butler said.

This summer, the Commonwealth Transportation Board gave a contract to Skanska-USA and Branch Highways to build the road for $136 million.

The construction, though, cannot begin without federal government approval.

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