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Students recommend bypass alternatives

At Monticello High School, seniors are required to complete a citizen action project through their government classes. Our group is advocating for the U.S. 29 Western Bypass to not be constructed. Instead we believe the funds should be used to fix the problems that Charlottesville has with traffic on Route 29 itself.

The Western Bypass is a project that was originally proposed in the 1970’s with the intent to relieve congestion on Route 29 north of Charlottesville. The proposed bypass is a 6.2 mile long road with no exits and no stops, that begins near Forest Lakes and ends on the north end of the University of Virginia campus.

Some people are, and have been, pushing for the construction of the bypass since it was first suggested, but others have been equally motivated in their efforts to prevent the bypass from becoming a reality.

The main purpose of the bypass is to relieve congestion, as is generally the case with bypasses. There is no doubt that Route 29 has had a traffic problem that is only getting worse with all of the new up and coming businesses. Even though the bypass would allow people to avoid 10+ traffic lights along one of the most congested parts of Route 29, the bypass would not benefit anyone with a destination on Route 29.

Supporters say a substantial amount of “through traffic,” the traffic using Route 29 to get around Charlottesville, will greatly benefit if the bypass is built.  However, VDOT estimated that only 10-12 percent of vehicles traveling on Route 29 are through traffic. VDOT also estimates that 1-2 percent of traffic on Route 29 are shipping trucks and 18 wheelers. It begs the question, is it worth building this proposed $250 million road for only 14 percent of vehicles to use?

The trucks on Route 29 are also delivering goods to the ever growing number of businesses along the corridor and would not benefit from a bypass at all. Obviously you can’t bypass your destination. Cars traveling on Route 29 have the same problem. Most people aren’t taking the road to travel beyond Charlottesville, they are going to one of the many massive shopping centers, restaurants, or the huge new theater. These people also can’t take the bypass.

Some also argue that the 10-15 percent of cars and trucks that are through traffic don’t make up a large percentage of the “rush hour” and other busy traffic cycles, and that they usually pass through during the day or at night when most people aren’t driving. Those times don’t really have a traffic problem. Even those who live in Forest Lakes or further north of the end of the bypass would still use Route 29 to get into town. To get downtown, it would still be faster to head straight down Route 29 to Barracks Road or University Avenue than to backtrack from the other end of the bypass.

The bypass would only really help traffic going all the way through Charlottesville, and people on their way to UVA’s employee parking areas. Everyone agrees that there are too many cars on Route 29. The question is will allowing a tenth of those to bypass a part of it, only to join back up with the other 90 percent at Forest Lakes or the U.S. 250 bypass really fix things?
 

With or without a bypass, we still have to fix Route 29 itself to address this traffic problem. The Southern Environmental Law Center developed a plan they call “Go 29;” a $70 million cheaper alternative to the proposed bypass plan. This plan reduces the congestion and traffic on Route 29 without the cost and ecological impacts of building the bypass. The main problem with Route 29 is that traffic stops at certain points. If those were improved with overpasses and extra lanes, traffic could and would flow more freely along the whole highway. Route 29 does not feel like a highway with intersections and stop lights every hundred yards, and consequently, it does not work like a highway either.

The steps for “go 29” from the Southern Environmental Law Center are as follows: