The Virginia Department of Transportation is slated to unveil Thursday evening two new alternatives for the southern terminus of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass. Skanska and Branch Highways, the firms chosen to build the entire bypass, developed the designs.
VDOT must get approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the southern interchange because the new road will affect traffic flow on a portion of the existing U.S. 29/250 Bypass that is classified as a limited-access highway.
“The development of the alternative designs is part of the interchange modification report [required by the FHWA],” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
Cost estimates for new alternatives will not be available at Thursday’s meeting.
“Once a preferred design is selected, detailed engineering will be done that will include a cost estimate,” Hatter said.
The 2012 design submitted within the original Skanska-Branch proposal would use an elevated ramp to connect motorists traveling north from the U.S. 29/250 Bypass to the Western Bypass.
Drivers would have to pass through a pair of traffic signals before proceeding on the Western Bypass.
Earlier this year, VDOT consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff conducted several traffic models on various alternatives, including a flyover ramp, a partial cloverleaf and a “diverging diamond” similar to what is currently under construction at the Zion Crossroads exit on Interstate 64.
A draft report written in January showed that the 2012 design would lead to significantly longer travel times in the interchange as compared to a flyover design.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded Skanska Branch a $136 million contract last June. The firms submitted the lowest bid in the request for proposal to design and build the bypass.
The interchange modification report, expected to be completed before the end of the summer, is just one of several procedural hurdles the 6.2-mile, four-lane highway project must clear before construction can begin. VDOT’s contract with Skanska-Branch calls for the road to be completed in 2016, and its website claims construction will get underway before the end of this year.
However, neither land acquisition nor the project’s final design can begin unless the FHWA issues a “finding of no significant impact” document for the construction.
VDOT is still awaiting the FHWA to approve an environmental assessment that claims no significant new information relating to environmental impacts have arisen since previous federal approvals were granted in 1993 and 2003. FHWA can either issue a notice to proceed or require further review to determine how the effect of the road should be mitigated if it is built.
Following the release of the draft assessment last August, more than 600 people attended a September open house that was similar in format to Thursday’s scheduled meeting.
Of the 3,257 written comments received by VDOT, 3,194 were either against the bypass or believed further study should be conducted before proceeding with construction. That number includes around 1,900 signatures collected by the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition, a group that opposes the bypass.
There is no timetable for when this process will be complete.
“VDOT continues to work with FHWA to address the comments received during the public comment period,” Hatter said.
Meanwhile, the FHWA and VDOT are holding a meeting in early June with descendants of people buried in the Sammons-Ferguson Cemetery off Lambs Road. The Department of Interior is also considering the eligibility of the cemetery for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
VDOT has agreed to preserve the cemetery, but Skanska-Branch cannot begin a design until the FHWA the environmental assessment is completed. VDOT officials on Thursday will explain efforts they’ve taken to find other unidentified cemeteries in the area.
VDOT also has to secure approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the project will affect 2.8 acres of wetlands as well as 7,040 linear feet of streams. The Corps of Engineers has said it may require further review of alternatives to the bypass.
Thursday’s meeting will be held at the Holiday Inn Charlottesville on Emmet Street from 5 to 7:30 p.m. There will be no formal presentation, but attendees can ask VDOT staff questions about the designs and provide feedback.
Following the meeting, written comments on all three interchange alternatives can be sent to project manager Hal Jones through June 3 at 29bypassinterchange@VDOT.Virginia.gov with “Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass Southern Interchange” in the subject line.