Opponents of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 spent two hours Wednesday poring over the design for the 6.2-mile four-lane highway in order to suggest changes that would lessen its impact on Albemarle County.
County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker reconvened his bypass advisory task force to discuss what he sees as potential problems with the road and its two termini.
“I think what we have right now is a project that is not a credit to the community,” Rooker said. “Most people in this room would prefer the road not be built … but if [the Virginia Department of Transportation is] going to build it, we want to make sure it works from a transportation standpoint.”
In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded a $136 million contract to the team of Skanska USA and Branch Highways to design and build the road. However, the companies cannot begin work on a final design until after the Federal Highway Administration has approved the project as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Committee members and other attendees viewed printouts of the design that were marked up with questions about the bypass. Task force member Robert Humphris noted that the on-ramp to the bypass at the southern terminus is at an 11 percent grade.
“We see the 11 percent grade as a major problem, especially for large trucks,” Humphris said. “They’ll make a left-hand turn and will then immediately have to make an 11 percent grade for 300 feet … Then they’ll come to a second stoplight.”
Humphris said that will be a bottleneck and will present potential safety issues.
“If the construction crew would be willing to put up solid barriers instead of rail barriers, that would significantly reduce noise,” said Scott Van De Pol. “About 50 percent of noise on freeways comes from the tires. That noise originates very close to the ground, and even low barriers would block that noise from projecting into the community.”
Canterbury Hills resident and task force member Heather Swindler said she is concerned about the impact to schools along the right-of-way.
“I have children who go to Greer Elementary, and who will be going to Jack Jouett and Albemarle High School,” Swindler said. “It will directly impact their quality of education.”
Swindler would like to see the impact on the Albemarle school complex be mitigated somehow.
“What I would like to see is a dirt barrier that can stop particulates and noise,” Swindler said.
However, Rooker said many of the requests of the community are not likely to be granted because VDOT needs to keep the project under budget.
“The challenge to our community is that there are things that we would like to see from both aesthetics and a community protection standpoint that may be difficult to get because they are pushing to keep the cost down,” Rooker said.
Rooker invited VDOT engineers to attend the meeting, but they declined.
“We are not doing any final design work until the NEPA process is complete,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
Last fall, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd also put together a task force to advise the design for the northern terminus.
“As best as I can tell, all the issues from my task force, which were all reasonable, have been addressed in the design,” Boyd said in an email. “I don’t see any need to convene my task force again at this time but will continue to monitor the design as development is finalized.”
As part of the NEPA process, VDOT is expected to release a draft environmental assessment sometime this month. Thirty days later, it will hold a citizens information meeting. After a final draft is submitted, VDOT expects the FHWA to make a determination by the end of the year.
“The FHWA could require them to do more with their [environmental assessment], they can comment on it and have them revise it, but at some point FHWA will make a decision over whether the EA is adequate or if they have to do a supplementary environmental impact statement,” Rooker said.