As the Virginia Department of Transportation awaits federal clearance to proceed with the design and construction of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass, some residents of Forest Lakes want to ensure a safe design where the road ends near their 5,000-person community.
Scott Elliff, a member of the board of directors for both the Forest Lakes Community Association and the Piedmont Environmental Council, gave a presentation Tuesday in opposition of how the road will merge with the existing U.S. 29. The interchange will be located just south of the community’s main entrances on Ashwood Boulevard.
Once concern Elliff presented is that there may not be a lane for traffic heading north on U.S. 29 to prepare to access Ashwood Boulevard. Elliff also said the rolling topography near Ashwood Boulevard is not addressed in the design. Investigators in the death of a 16-year-old Albemarle High School student in 2008 cited the terrain in that location as a factor in that wreck.
“The Skanska-Branch plan builds the interchange exactly into the existing grade,” Elliff said. Additional traffic at that location will make the intersection more unsafe, he said.
Another Forest Lakes resident, Jim Grace, disagreed with how Elliff presented his information. Grace distributed responses from VDOT that he said debunked Elliff’s claims about the design.
“VDOT has committed to addressing the grade on the northbound U.S. 29 approaching Ashwood Boulevard,” read the statement from VDOT. However, the agency does not yet have additional details on those plans.
“You can’t change it once you’ve built it on that grade,” Elliff said.
Grace was part of a task force convened by Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd in 2011 when VDOT was preparing a “request for proposals” for a firm to design and build the 6.2-mile highway and its two interchanges.
“Everybody knows that ‘roller coaster’ is terrible,” Grace said, referring area near Ashwood Boulevard. “VDOT knows that. The problem with a lot of this stuff is funding. They only have so much money to do things.”
Elliff said if motorists can’t get to Ashwood Boulevard after the bypass ends, more vehicles will use Hollymead Boulevard to access Forest Lakes South. He said that could mean increased traffic on residential streets such as Powell Creek Boulevard.
“There’s not enough room according to the existing plan to have these people come up and slide over to be able to use Ashwood Boulevard,” Elliff said.
Many in attendance said they wanted VDOT to hold a meeting for the northern interchange, similar to the one held in May for the southern end of the bypass. VDOT had to hold that meeting due to Federal Highway Administration requirements, but does not have to hold one for the northern terminus.
VDOT will submit a revised “environmental assessment” to the Federal Highway Administration once the Department of Interior determines whether a cemetery near the right of way should be included on the National Register of Historic Places. That will not happen until after federal officials tour the site.
After the highway association gives its approval to proceed, the bypass is slated to go into its final design phase.
“Our concern is safety, and the language that [VDOT] used here is like saying they’re guaranteeing to try,” resident Marc Gilgannon said. “What we want as a community is for VDOT to more than try to make the intersection safer.”