By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Leaders in Culpeper County are concerned that funding for transportation projects in their community could be reduced if the Commonwealth Transportation Board makes a full funding commitment to the Western Bypass.

“We believe that funding for this project places other more practical projects in jeopardy,” wrote Jim Charapich, the president and CEO of the Culpeper Chamber Commerce in a July 7 letter to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.

Download letter from Culpeper Chamber of Commerce to Secretary Connaughton

On Wednesday, Connaughton will ask the CTB to consider allocating $196 million to the Western Bypass, and $34 million to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes from Polo Grounds Road to the Hollymead Town Center. Details have not yet been officially made available as to where the money will come from.

The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors has two major transportation priorities for primary roads, according to chairman William Chase Jr.

One of the projects is to build a grade-separated interchange at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 666 that has a preliminary cost estimate of $33 million. The project would serve the adjacent Eastern View High School, which was built in 2008.

The second priority is to increase a two-lane portion section of Route 3 to four lanes near Stevensburg.

Chase said at least nine people have died on that stretch of road in the past two years.

“I myself was seriously injured on it several years ago,” Chase said. “We’ve been trying to get something done for 20 years.”

“Those two projects are proceeding forward on schedule and funding remains in place for both projects,” said Lou Hatter, the spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.

“No money is being taken off those projects for funding of the bypass,” Hatter said.

The CTB adopted a six-year improvement program in June that includes full funding for the $38.5 million widening project on Route 3. The project is scheduled for construction in 2014.

This year, VDOT will spend $5 million to purchase right of way for the intersection of Route 666 and U.S. 29. However, there is no money in the CTB’s six-year plan towards construction, though $2.5 million has been spent on preliminary engineering.

John Egertson, the planning director for Culpeper County, said at one point the Route 666 interchange was supposed to have been fully funded, but the downturn in the economy slowed the project down.

“In the most recent six year plan, we have right-of-way and engineering money but no construction money and we have full funding for the Route 3 widening and we’ll do our level best to make sure none of that money goes [to Charlottesville],” Egertson said.

Chris Williams, chair of the Culpeper Chamber, said his organization sent the letter to make sure its interests are known by the CTB.

“U.S. 29 and Route 666 is a very dangerous intersection and there’s a high school sitting on one of the corners,” Williams said. “It’s not a matter of if someone will get killed, but when they will get killed and hopefully it won’t be a high school student.”

Jim Rich represents the Culpeper District on the CTB. He is opposed to the Western Bypass in part because he said it would take funding away from other projects.

“You can’t take over $230 million out of the system and expect other projects won’t be affected,” Rich said.

“We’re well underfunded for maintenance, there is no money going to secondary roads, and there are bridges that need to be repaired,” Rich said. “There are a lot of needs in the Culpeper District which will instead go to this wasteful expenditure for a road that won’t work.”


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