Albemarle seeks public meeting on bypass’ northern terminus

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors wants the Virginia Department of Transportation to give the public the chance to review possible changes for how the Western Bypass might connect to existing U.S. 29 south of the Hollymead Town Center.
“The board respectfully requests that VDOT schedule and hold, at its earliest convenience [and] once design alternatives are reasonably available, a citizens information meeting on the northern terminus of the Western Bypass,” reads a letter signed by board chairwoman Ann H. Mallek to Brent Sprinkel, acting administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.
The letter requests that the format of the meeting be similar to one held in May regarding alternatives for the southern terminus, which would connect the bypass at Leonard Sandridge Road.
However, that meeting was required by a process VDOT is undertaking to get approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the southern interchange.
No such approval is required for the northern terminus because that section of U.S. 29 is not considered a limited-access highway.
The request to send the letter was initially made by Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker following the release of internal documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
In March, the project manager for the Skanska-Branch joint venture wrote to VDOT to express concern about how the interchange would connect to Ashwood Boulevard and a separate project to widen U.S. 29 north of the bypass.
“VDOT [has] commented that the existing right-turn lane [onto Ashwood Boulevard] must be maintained,” wrote J.J. Moegling with Skanska-Branch. “However, [ Skanska-Branch joint venture ] is unable to locate language in the request for proposals that requires this. Our technical proposal shows three thru-lanes as required by VDOT.”
Moegling suggested that one solution could be to use land to the east of existing U.S. 29 to accommodate a new right-turn lane.
However, a task force convened by Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd specifically requested that the bypass project stay entirely within and to the west of the existing road. That request was codified in the request for proposals to which Skanska-Branch and eight other firms responded.
Another of Moegling’s suggestions was to extend the bypass project north of Ashwood Boulevard.
That would involve changes to the design Skanska-Branch submitted as part of its winning bid. In his letter, Moegling said the cost of additional design work on the northern terminus would be around $560,000.
Rooker showed Moegling’s letter to fellow supervisors at their June 13 meeting to demonstrate what he said was uncertainty about the ongoing project.
“There are a lot of issues with the northern terminus that are out there and you can see in this letter that they are being discussed,” Rooker said.
Boyd, a proponent of the road, said he has been in talks to hold such a meeting. However, he said the discussions between Moegling and VDOT are preliminary and to be expected as road plans evolve from the conceptual stage.
“This is not final design work and it’s not a final proposal,” Boyd said. “They’re negotiating back and forth the best way to build this road.”
Boyd said the discussion between engineers is about making the best bypass possible.
“I’m not going to sit here and think that VDOT is going to build an unsafe interchange there,” Boyd said.
“I hope not,” Rooker said. “And I think the public should have an opportunity to weigh in on what they intend to build there.”
Boyd said VDOT officials have told him that no final design work can be done until the Federal Highway Administration grants environmental clearance to the project. That will not happen until VDOT finishes revising an environmental assessment of the bypass.
VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said the agency expects that process to be completed by the end of the summer.
Supervisor Duane E. Snow, who voted for the bypass in the summer of 2011, said he supported sending the letter but did not want to force 
VDOT to hold a meeting prematurely.
“I think everyone wants a safe road,” Snow said. “I for one want to see a design. So a letter will be great, so when they have something ready to present to us, they give us a chance to weigh in like we did on the southern terminus.”