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Early bypass plans raise questions
Western Bypass - Southern terminus as of June 2012
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Credit: VDOT
Southern terminus of Western Bypass
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by Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, July 04, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.

When the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 is completed as early as July 2016, drivers heading north around Charlottesville will be welcomed by a new traffic signal.

After the intersection with Leonard Sandridge Road, drivers will have a 6.2-mile, signal-free journey before being deposited back on U.S. 29 near Hollymead Town Center in Albemarle’s northern growth area.

“According to the conceptual roadway plans, there will be traffic signals to control traffic flow at the termination of the ramps to and from the U.S. 250/U.S. 29 bypass,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.

That came as a surprise to Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council, a group opposed to the bypass.

“Previously, the bypass design had traffic at both termini flowing onto and off of 29,” Werner said. “Now, with stoplights at the south ... I’m curious how that will cut into that time savings.”

In May, VDOT officials opened up plans from seven different teams that responded to a request for proposals to both design and build the road.

The lowest-priced proposal was a $136 million bid from a team consisting of Skanska USA and Branch Highways. However, the state’s public procurement law prevented the public from initially being able to see the 323-page proposal until the Commonwealth Transportation Board officially awarded a contract on June 20.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has been pouring over those plans to better understand how it will impact the landscape. Attorney Morgan Butler said he believes the plans demonstrate that the winning design was achieved by cutting several costs at the expense of the community most closely impacted by the new road.

“At the southern terminus, the new design shows steeper grades and a road that sits higher on the landscape than in the prior plans, magnifying the noise and visual impacts the bypass would have on residents, businesses and schools in that part of the community,” Butler said. “At the northern terminus, a smaller footprint has resulted in exits with tight curves and two left-side ramps that are likely to create hazards for drivers getting on and off of the proposed bypass.”

Skanska-Branch’s project narrative states that the northern terminus will be “free-flow” and technically has no intersections. However, the intersection of Ashwood Boulevard and U.S. 29 is immediately adjacent to the project’s northernmost endpoint.

“The winning bidder has predicted bad traffic delays at the northern terminus of the bypass where Ashwood Boulevard intersects with Route 29, but its proposal explains that VDOT didn’t require bidders to address delays at this intersection as part of their bypass designs,” Butler said.

Hatter said the Skansa-Branch proposal is a preliminary one that will be refined.

“The plans provided as part of the technical proposal are conceptual roadway plans [and] the design-builder will need to fully develop the plans,” Hatter said. “Those plans must then be reviewed and approved by VDOT prior to construction.”

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker lives in the Roslyn Ridge subdivision. At some point during construction, his street will have restricted access so a bridge can be built to cross the bypass.

“There’s no information about how temporary access will be provided to several neighborhoods and to Earlysville Road during construction of the bypass,” Rooker said.

Hatter said VDOT did not require the initial submissions to detail all phases of work nor to give a schedule for proposed road closures.

“The conceptual roadway plans do not show this, but the design-builder is responsible for providing this after contract execution,” Hatter said.

Hatter also said locations for noise barriers will only be determined after Skanska-Branch conducts a noise analysis after completing the final design.

Scott Elliff, a member of both the PEC board and the Forest Lakes Community Association’s board, said it did not appear to him that there were any access issues for Ashwood Boulevard. However, he is not sure if the bypass’s longest bridge, across the South Fork of the Rivanna River, precludes construction of another of the county’s transportation priorities.

“I am unclear on whether the ability to do Berkmar Drive Extended in the future is adequately preserved,” Elliff said.

The Places29 Master Plan calls for a northern extension of Berkmar Drive past Sam’s Club as a parallel road to U.S. 29. No funding source has been identified for that project.

Elliff said it would make sense for bridges for both the bypass and the Berkmar extension to be built at the same time. Otherwise, construction crews will have to return to build a second bridge in the future, raising the costs for Berkmar.

Hatter said Skanska-Branch was not required to plan for a Berkmar bridge at this time, but its engineers are compelled to keep it in mind in the future if that project becomes funded.

“During final design development, the design-builder shall provide three alternatives to conceptual level, for the future extension of Berkmar Drive,” Hatter said.

 

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