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Can the Western Bypass be Stopped? Supervisors Plan Public Hearing

February 18, 2014

The Route 29 Western Bypass has been debated for more than three decades, and the spotlight is about to return with a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

So far, nearly 100 people have signed up to speak at the 4 p.m. hearing, and each person will have two minutes to give his or her thoughts.

Following the meeting, the board may consider a three-page resolution that would state the county's opposition to the bypass.

"The contract's been awarded. It's not my belief that the Board of Supervisors has the standing to stop it," said supervisor Ken Boyd, a longtime supporter of the bypass. "They can request the governor do that, and I think that's what this is attempting to do."

The resolution comes from vice chair Diantha McKeel, whose campaign platform last year included fighting the Western Bypass.

Charlottesville city councilor Kristin Szakos sits on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a voting group consisting of two councilors, two supervisors and a VDOT representative that determines the area's transportation priorities. Szakos has opposed the bypass and now, after a change on the board of supervisors after last year's election, may have like-minded voting members by her side.

"There are now new representatives from the county who are on the MPO who would presumably vote differently if they had to do ti again," Szakos said. "The question is whether or not we have to do it again."

The 6.2-mile road would stretch from Leonard Sandridge Road to just above the north fork of the Rivanna River. One of the resolutions supervisors could consider on Wednesday would be to reallocate the money for that project and put them toward other traffic solutions for Route 29, McKeel said.

"I think what it's going to do is create huge legal battles, back and forth between the contractor, between the state, between the county," Boyd said. "It's going to create a lot of legal expense in my mind, and I think it's just premature."

After the board changed its position to support the road in 2011, the state handed a $135 million contract one year later to a company to design and build the road. Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing an environmental assessment for the road that's expected in several weeks.

Further steps to build the road cannot begin until the environmental assessment is completed.

"At a certain point, it comes down to rather wonky policy decisions at the state level, whether it can stop or not or whether it will stop or not," Szakos said.

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