By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More than 200 people packed into a gym at

Baker-Butler Elementary School

Tuesday night to learn more about how the

Western Bypass

of U.S. 29 would affect Forest Lakes and other neighborhoods in northern Albemarle.

Albemarle Supervisor Ken Boyd

Supervisor Ken Boyd called a town hall meeting to address concerns that the Forest Lakes community might lose access to U.S. 29 because of the northern terminus.

Boyd said information circulated by opponents of the road claiming Ashwood Boulevard will be cut off is incorrect.

“That is not the case,” Boyd said. “That information came from a low-level staffer in Northern Virginia who wrote an e-mail that was picked up in a [Freedom of Information Act] request and then distributed.This is the kind of thing we have to stop. We can’t keep having misinformation on what this bypass is.”

Several engineers from the Virginia Department of Transportation were on hand to discuss the project and emphasized that the northern terminus as depicted on maps is only a concept.

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“The design has not moved forward for nearly 15 years, so what you’re looking at is quite dated,” said Jim Utterback, administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.

Utterback said concerns that Forest Lakes South would lose access to U.S. 29 at Ashwood Boulevard are unfounded.

“That is not going to happen as far as the bypass project,” Utterback said. “We’re not going to eliminate access to U.S. 29 from Ashwood Boulevard.”

“The [northern terminus] was designed with the assumption that the Meadow Creek Parkway would come through,” said Mohammad Mirshahi, VDOT’s chief deputy engineer. Plans to extend the Meadow Creek Parkway north of Rio Road were shelved in the early 2000s.

VDOT engineer Mohammad Mirshahi explains how a larger Meadow Creek Parkway informed earlier designs for the northern terminus

“We can go back and change the design so the footprint will be much, much smaller,” Mirshahi said, adding that blueprints for the terminus will be created using “context-sensitive design” with input from the community.

“We won’t do this in a vacuum,” Mirshahi said. “There will be plenty of opportunities for the public to express their thoughts.”

VDOT officials also answered questions about a project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes from Polo Grounds Road to the Hollymead Town Center.

“All we’re trying to do with this new project is eliminate what people call the hourglass,” said VDOT engineer John Giometti. He said scoping for that project won’t get under way for at least a year because the money is not yet available.

Giometti added the widening project would also not require the closure of Ashwood Boulevard.

Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated $197 million to the bypass and $32.5 million for the widening project.

One person at Tuesday’s meeting asked if the widening could be done without the bypass, but Boyd cut him off and pointed out that the VDOT officials were not on hand to answer political questions.

“We’ve been told the money to widen 29 will not be made available unless there is a bypass,” Boyd said.

“We’re being blackmailed,” shouted a Forest Lakes South resident who did not want to be identified.

Boyd said the state is pushing for the road, but the community would benefit from a new road.

“My interest is getting trucks off the highway,” Boyd said. “This is an opportunity to get more [transportation] money than this county has gotten in many years.”

“We shouldn’t be held hostage by the state,” shouted Mike Farabaugh, an opponent of the road.

The event was the second time Boyd has convened a town-hall meeting to explain his position on a controversial topic. In January he sought public input regarding the possibility of expanding the growth area across from Forest Lakes but ultimately voted against it.

“You all were opposed to it, so I went along with your wishes,” Boyd said.

The MPO will hold a public hearing at 4 p.m. today at the Albemarle County Office Building to determine whether to remove language in its transportation improvement program that blocks funding from being allocated to construction of the bypass. Albemarle’s two representatives on the MPO have said they will not vote to change that language unless there is a written guarantee that other local projects will be funded.

Rodney L. Thomas, chairman of the MPO, said he had received a commitment from VDOT, but was unwilling to share the information.

“We are going to announce that at the MPO [tonight],” Thomas said.

VDOT engineers showed another concept that would not involve a flyover crossing U.S. 29 near Forest Lakes.

Many in the audience said that the road was a fait accompli and expressed frustration the MPO would grant approval before so many questions are answered.

“This meeting should have happened a long time ago and it’s the kind of meeting that should have happened before the decision was made,” said Scott Elliff of the Forest Lakes Community . “It is good we had the meeting, but it’s a week late and $250 million short.”

Elliff said he was pleased to hear that there would be public input into the design of the northern terminus.

“We know this area better than anyone,” Elliff said.

Forest Lakes South resident Steven Janes said some of his questions were answered, but not all.

“Our concern is to lessen the footprint impact of the northern terminus,” Janes said. “We wish it would terminate north. People coming off the new bypass heading northbound on 29 will be hit with four traffic lights in a row as soon at they get off. That is going to create a lot of traffic back-up.”

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Charlottesville Tomorrow

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