Area stakeholders preparing bypass comments


Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Virginia Department of Transportation is seeking comments and suggestions from Albemarle County officials on an ongoing environmental review of the plans for the Western Bypass of U.S. 29.

“The purpose of the current studies is to address any changes to the project and any new information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed project and its impacts,” wrote VDOT project manager Chris Collins in a Jan. 27 letter to

Ann H. Mallek

, chairwoman of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

The long, four-lane highway was first planned in the 1980s as a way to bypass Albemarle County’s commercial development. However, the project lay dormant for many years in part because Albemarle supervisors were opposed.

The bypass was revived last June after

supervisors reversed their decision


the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated $197 million towards the project


Visit our Western Bypass

Information center

View 3D models of the proposed bypass

The Federal Highway Administration is requiring VDOT to conduct an “environmental assessment” of the project to make sure previous environmental approvals for the project are still valid.

The FHWA originally issued a “finding of no significant impact” in 1997, which was reconfirmed in 2003.

Since then, the Albemarle supervisors have made several land-use decisions that allow for more residential and commercial development, particularly around the northern terminus for the bypass.

These include Hollymead Town Center, the expansion of the University of Virginia Research Park and North Pointe, said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development.

At a briefing on the topic earlier this month, Graham told supervisors that his staff would need until the end of the month to meet VDOT’s Feb. 29 deadline.

Supervisors will review the work before the county’s official response is submitted, but their approval will be conducted via email because they do not meet again until the beginning of March.


Kenneth C. Boyd

asked Graham if staff would be making a recommendation on the bypass.

“We’re not providing any analysis or recommendations, just data,” Graham responded.

VDOT has also asked the

Rivanna River Basin Commission

to provide comment due to its impact on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“I think there are some unique things we can say that stay on our watershed focus,” said

Leslie Middleton

, executive director of the RRBC, at the commission’s Monday meeting.

“The last thing the RRBC needs to do is insert itself into that controversy,” said Marvin Moss, a Fluvanna County citizen and former supervisor who serves as RRBC chair. However, Moss asked members of the commission if the entity should submit a response.

“I would argue that if we don’t respond, we’re abdicating our position as the watershed experts,” said Jim Frydl, a Greene County supervisor.

Liz Palmer

, a member of the

Albemarle County Service Authority

who also serves on the RRBC, said the letter is an opportunity to recommend the state follow Albemarle County’s guidelines on erosion and sediment control rather than VDOT’s, which she said are less stringent.

“[The bypass] is going over 10 tributaries of one our rivers,” Palmer said. “Shouldn’t we ask for the best sediment control plans?”

RRBC staff will draft a letter for review by members to approve via email before the deadline.

A task force created by Jack Jouett Supervisor

Dennis S. Rooker

also met Monday to discuss how it will continue monitoring the evolution of the bypass design.

“This committee is going to ask VDOT to conduct a full supplemental environmental impact statement for the project and we’ll be sending a letter to that [effect],” Rooker said.

Other groups have opted to comment directly to the FHWA requesting they conducted a more rigorous evaluation.


Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition

firmly believes that a supplemental environmental impact statement be performed on this project to take into account of the changes that have occurred since [2003],” wrote CATCO president George Larie.


Southern Environmental Law Center

and the

Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club

have submitted similar letters.