Area’s CTB rep supports bypass around Charottesville

The Charlottesville-Albemarle area’s new representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board has expressed an opinion on whether to build a bypass in the region.

“I think that a limited-access roadway is the safest way to move people around and through Charlottesville,” said Alison De Tuncq in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. She declined to elaborate at this time.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed De Tuncq in August 2013 to replace James Rich after he was removed from the position after his public opposition to the $244.5 million Western Bypass.

Her comments came after a Thursday meeting of the Planning and Coordination Council. That group is a regional body that consists of elected officials from Charlottesville and Albemarle County, as well as top officials at the University of Virginia.

De Tuncq is president of the University of Virginia Community Credit Union.

The PACC was briefed on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s progress towards adoption of a new six-year improvement program. That is the process by which new transportation projects are planned, approved, and funded in the commonwealth.

“This is always such a topic of huge interest,” said Patrick Hogan, UVa’s chief operating officer.

Last year, the General Assembly enacted a new funding formula based on a small sales tax increase designated for transportation projects. Despite the new source of revenue, officials are projecting a reduction of nearly $500 million over the next six-year period due to a reduction in state and federal revenue forecasts.

Over the next few months, localities across the state will submit their priorities. The new document will be presented to the transportation board in April or May with adoption by that body in June.

Forthcoming projects in Albemarle include the adaptive traffic signals for the U.S. 29 corridor, $11 million to replace three bridges, and $32.6 to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes between Ashwood Boulevard and Town Center Drive. That location is just to the north of the northern end of the Western Bypass.

City projects that will begin in the period include the $11.1 million so-called “Best Buy” ramp, the $13.7 million extension of Hillsdale Drive Extended and the $14.5 million replacement of the Belmont Bridge. The Best Buy ramp is scheduled to be advertised for construction bids in November and the Hillsdale is slated to go to bid in July 2015.

“The [Best Buy ramp] is moving in to the right-of-way stage and we have to get an issue with sound walls resolved,” said John Lynch, administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.

There is no date for the Belmont Bridge project because the City Council has not made a final decision on whether to replace the structure across Water Street and several railroad tracks or build an underpass. A design for a new “enhanced” bridge will be presented to the council in early spring.

VDOT officials did not have many details on how the reduction would affect projects in the Culpeper District, though they said projects likely would be delayed rather than canceled.

Progress on the Western Bypass has slowed while VDOT prepares a document intended to justify previous federal approvals of the project. A draft of this “environmental assessment” was first released to the public in August 2012, but a revised version has not yet been finalized.

“Right now, the environmental re-evaluation has been submitted to the Federal Highway Administration, so we’re waiting until they make a determination before it can go out for public comment,” Lynch said.

Once the document is published, there will be a minimum of 15 days where the public will be able comment on the revised document.

This is separate from the public hearing the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will hold at 4 p.m. .

A spokesman for the highway administration said he does not know if the final environmental assessment will be ready for public review before that hearing.

“We are working diligently, but there isn’t a specific date known yet when we’ll have our decisions ready to publish,” Doug Hecox said.

Lynch said that the new secretary of transportation, Aubrey Layne will tour the project site before he makes a recommendation to the governor.

In response to a question from Albemarle Planning Commissioner Russell “Mac” Lafferty, Lynch said that the other projects in the six-year program will not be in jeopardy if the bypass is canceled.

“If it doesn’t go through, that particular funding was all discretionary federal funding so that would go back to the CTB to determine what that funding would be used for,” Lynch said.

“I think there’s been talk about some ties to the other projects but I don’t think there are ties,” he added.

Lynch said that if the bypass project was cancelled, the widening project just to the north would have to be adjusted accordingly.