The Virginia Department of Transportation has received seven bids from firms seeking to design and build the 6.2-mile Western Bypass of U.S. 29 .
However, the public will not be permitted to review the plans until a contract is awarded in June to the lowest qualified bidder.
“All documents will be available for inspection… upon award of the contract by the Commonwealth Transportation Board ,” said Lou Hatter , the spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District .
Hatter cited Virginia’s Public Procurement Act, which states that proposals are only public documents upon the official awarding of the bid.
The bids submitted in time for the Tuesday deadline are the technical plans to build the road. A VDOT committee is reviewing the proposals to see if they are qualified.
The firms that turned in qualified plans are to submit a price proposal by May 3. The price proposals will be public when they are unveiled on May 8.
“After the price proposals are opened, VDOT will review each package for responsiveness to the request for proposals and legal requirements,” Hatter said. “If that review is satisfactory and a competitive price proposal is received, VDOT will issue a notice of intent to award to the successful offerer.”
That notice is expected to occur on May 14. Virginia procurement law does authorize unsuccessful companies to review the winning proposal.
Opponents of the bypass are disappointed the public will not be able to review the winning plan before it is approved.
“We are not being allowed to comment on the design and impacts of the largest road project to be constructed in Albemarle County since I-64 until it is too late to have any effect,” said George Larie of the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition .
“It’s disturbing the state would even consider entering into a contract to build a highway before the public has seen the design and when so much of the information on the project’s impacts is almost 20 years old,” said Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center .
The total budget for the project is $244.5 million, including $197.4 million allocated last year by the CTB. Of that amount, $7.4 million is for additional engineering, $71 million is to complete the purchase of right of way and $118.2 million is for construction.
If the winning proposal is above budget, VDOT is authorized by the request for proposals to enter into negotiations to attempt to bring the cost down. Additionally, VDOT would be able to establish a competitive range that could open those negotiations to more than one bidder.
The winning bidder will not be fully permitted to work on the project until VDOT completes an environmental assessment of the project as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.
That means the firm cannot purchase right of way, cannot relocate any utilities and cannot produce a final design. Those activities can only occur after the NEPA review is complete.
The winning firm will not be allowed to participate in the NEPA review. VDOT will issue work orders to change the project if the review finds additional design work to accommodate environmental mitigations.
A draft environmental assessment will be made available to the public later this year and VDOT expects to complete that process by October.
The Federal Highway Administration has encouraged that a public meeting be held, but VDOT has not yet scheduled one.
“Thankfully, there are still federal requirements and key decisions that remain, and our community still has a vital role to play in influencing the outcome,” Butler said.
Nine teams had qualified to submit bids, but two did not complete their proposals.
The firms that are still in the running are: American Infrastructure / Kimley-Horn of Glen Allen; CH2MHILL of Richmond; Charlottesville Bypass Constructors (Shirley-English) / Dewberry of Lorton; Granite-Wagman / Gannett Fleming of Tarrytown, N.Y.; Lane / RK&K of Chantilly; Skanska-Branch / JMT of Virginia Beach; and Zachry / TranSystems of San Antonio, Texas.
In other bypass news, the three sitting members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors who voted to approve the bypass last year sent a letter in March to the FHWA explaining their support for the project.

Download the letter to the FHWA

The letter from Kenneth C. Boyd , Duane E. Snow and Rodney Thomas was also signed by retired Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier , who provided a fourth vote that ended the board’s long-standing opposition to the project.

“We represent the overwhelming majority of area residents who want a bypass built,” the letter reads. “We acknowledge [the FHWA has] a strict process to follow when building roads and see no need to interject our amateur micromanagement.”
The letter from the pro-bypass supervisors states that one of those alternatives, grade-separated interchanges at key points along U.S. 29, did not have unanimous support.
“The Places29 local land-use and transportation plan reached a consensus after six years and millions of taxpayers’ expense only after any softening of language regarding grade-separate interchanges,” reads the letter.