The presidents of the Danville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce have called on Charlottesville’s business community for help in building demand for a bypass of US Route 29. They were invited to address the North Charlottesville Business Council  on April 23, 2008 to give their view of the draft Places29 Master Plan , which includes converting key intersections along 29 to grade-separated interchanges as a way of speeding up through-traffic.

“We’ve been dealing with the conflict between being a local road and a regional highway,” said Michael McGowan, outgoing NCBC President. He said the Places29 process has been a frustrating one, and there has not been enough input from other communities.

Laurie Moran of the Danville / Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce

Laurie Moran, president of the Danville / Pittsylvania County Chambers of Commerce said her community is only now rebounding from the economic collapse of the Southside in the late 20th century, as the tobacco and textile industries both fell apart. Companies like IKEA have recently opened new factories, but will require a reliable transportation network for advanced manufacturing to flourish.

Manufacturers want immediate access to markets because retailers and other manufacturers no longer want to carry inventory, meaning supplies and parts need to be able to get to their destination “just in time.”

“For us and our companies that are trying to get product out of the area, and to get supplies in, we depend heavily on U.S. 29. Right now, most of our manufacturing companies are taking U.S. 58 east to Interstate 95 because of the bottleneck here in the Charlottesville area,” Moran said. She added that access to Dulles International Airport is important for recruiting more overseas investment.

Danville opened up a bypass/expressway of U.S. 29 in the early 1990’s, and the Lynchburg district followed suit earlier this decade with an expressway around Madison Heights in  Amherst County.  Rex Hammond of the Greater Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce said U.S. 29 also serves as the primary north-south highway for his community, given that Lynchburg does not have an Interstate highway.  He said 20% of Lynchburg’s workforce is employed in manufacturing, and that the City is home to about 5 colleges with over 20,000 students.

Rex Hammond of the Greater Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce

“We’re interested in the vitality of the entire corridor,” Hammond said. “29 runs the breadth of this country and for us it’s our main commercial artery.”  He added he was concerned about growing congestion of Route 29 north of Charlottesville as well.

The Places29 transportation plan includes construction of six bridges, interchanges or overpasses along Route 29 with a cost approaching $185 million (2007 estimate not including right-of-way acquisition).  These grade-separated approaches would eliminate traffic signals for vehicles on Route 29 at Hydraulic Rd., Rio Rd., Hilton Heights, Ashwood Blvd., Timberwood Blvd., Airport Rd.  These six improvements are part of the twenty-year plan.  Greenbrier Drive is expected to have a grade-separated interchange sometime after 2025.
McGowan asked Hammond what he thought about the Places29 plan.  “From my perspective, the notion of having students and senior citizens and the public walking across a US highway is a ridiculous notion,” Hammond said. “These two concepts cannot co-exist. I think it’s a cruel hoax that is being perpetuated on your community.”

Carter Myers, a former member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board who supported the Western Bypass, said the issue was dead unless federal dollars were available. He asked Moran and Hammond if they had plans to lobby the federal government similar to the way this community lobbied for a federal earmark to build the interchange for the Meadowcreek Parkway. Moran said Danville spent 15 years accumulating enough money from VDOT and the federal government for its bypass, and

Myers said the Culpeper District would not support the project, and that an effort would have to be made to secure federal funding. Hammond said there had to be a resolve on the part of Charlottesville to build one.

“This project is being ignored by your planning district. My Senator, Steve Newman, has put in legislation that’s been passed and has been supported by the Attorney General that Charlottesville needs to build its bypass,” Hammond said. “We’re waiting patiently for the [Charlottesville] community to be part of the solution.”

Developer Chuck Rotgin of the Great Eastern Management Company said that the current alignment for the bypass is obsolete.  “It seems to me that if we’re going to be talking about a bypass, it has to be a true bypass and it has to be either east or west of town, and it’s going to take political courage and local leadership to see that through,” Rotgin said.

VDOT is currently soliciting proposals for a study of the entire US 29 Corridor from the North Carolina border to Gainesville at Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia.