Questions remain about future of bypass

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, July 22, 2011

Opponents of the

Western Bypass

of U.S. 29 are hopeful the

Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization

will defer next week’s vote on whether to move forward with the project until key questions can be answered.

On Wednesday,

the CTB moved $197 million into the bypass’ account

, but that money cannot be allocated to the project unless the MPO amends its

transportation improvement program


“When you have a piece as important as the [design of the] northern interchange unknown, it is premature to sign off before we know what the impacts are going to be,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the

Southern Environmental Law Center


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The MPO will hold a final public hearing next Wednesday on whether to add the bypass to its list of approved projects. The MPO has blocked money from being spent on construction since 1996.

The Virginia Department of Transportation halted preliminary engineering for the project in 1998 and a design for the northern interchange near the Forest Lakes South neighborhood was never finished.

Butler said existing plans appear to cut off access to U.S. 29 for Ashwood Boulevard, but he and the community cannot know for certain until a design is complete. A vote next week could relinquish authority the Albemarle supervisors want to retain over the final design.

“The county will lose their influence to leverage the project at that point,” Butler said.

“This is obviously important to our Forest Lakes community, and it is impossible to comment without seeing what it would look like, how tall it would be, how close to existing residences it would be,” said Scott Elliff, a member of the Forest Lakes Community Association Board of Directors.

“This move should be taken only after a review of the facts, consideration and analysis of various alternatives, substantial public input, aggressive negotiations and careful deliberations,” Elliff said in a letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors earlier this month.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said in an email he is working to make sure that no harm comes to the Forest Lakes community.

“I am absolutely committed to maintaining, and even improving the quality of life for Forest Lakes residents,” Boyd said.

Boyd has invited residents of northern Albemarle County to attend a community meeting Tuesday at Baker-Butler Elementary, where representatives from VDOT will be on hand.

Other opponents of the road are concerned that the project will exceed the $197 million allocated to it by the CTB.

“The rights of way for both the northern terminus and the southern terminus have not yet been purchased or acquired to date,” said Jack Sanford, the president of Faulconer Construction. Faulconer’s equipment storage yard is in the path of the bypass off Woodburn Road.

In his testimony to the CTB, Sanford calculated that the northern interchange would cost at least $75 million, and the southern interchange would cost $100 million.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker agreed with Sanford’s estimates.

“The southern terminus will be a triple-decker spaghetti interchange and like nothing we have ever seen in this area,” Rooker said. “I think they have substantially underestimated the construction costs and they’ll be back along the way to ask for another $100 million.”

So far, 83 of 122 target parcels along the alignment have been purchased at a cost of $33.7 million. The allocation by the CTB on Wednesday specified that $71.7 million would be spent to acquire the remaining parcels.

Documents released to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO) under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2007, VDOT estimated there are 18 parcels north of the South Fork Rivanna River that would need to be acquired. The cost of purchasing these properties plus condemnation costs range from $29 million to $40 million depending on how much land would be taken.

The exact figure won’t be known until a northern interchange is designed.

At the southern end, seven parcels remain to be purchased at a cost of $16.5 million, including two parcels owned by the University of Virginia Foundation.

“I have not been contacted by VDOT about these parcels,” said Tim Rose, the foundation’s chief executive officer.

“Should land need to be acquired for a road project, I presume it would be purchased from us at fair market value,” Rose said.

Carter Myers, a former member of the CTB and long-time bypass champion, said he did not think the right of way costs would exceed $71 million.

“We’ve bought almost all the houses, and it’s amazingly raw land north [of the river],” Myers said to the CTB this week. “The northern terminus probably needs a little bit of work [but] we’ve got a Board of Supervisor member, Ken Boyd, on this project and … I’d ask you to work with him on that northern terminus.”

Much of the rural land in that area is owned by local developer Wendell Wood. Wood was unsuccessful in his bid earlier this year to have that land upzoned for commercial development as part of the Places29 Master Plan.