McDonnell administration to convene meeting to break U.S. 29 impasse

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, July 9, 2010

Source: Google Earth

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has directed Lynchburg and Charlottesville officials to meet in early August to hammer out disagreements over the future of U.S. 29 through Albemarle County.

“They want us to meet with several of the representatives from Lynchburg and lock us in a room,” said Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

Wednesday. The meeting is to be held on August 5 in Charlottesville and is not open to the public.

Lynchburg and Danville officials have consistently pressed for a bypass of U.S. 29 to be built to allow truck traffic to travel unimpeded along U.S. 29 through Albemarle County.

“It is very important in terms of getting product to Northern Virginia and getting supplies down to Lynchburg for manufacturing,” said Gary Christie, the director of the Local Government Council of the Region 2000. That organization is the Lynchburg region’s planning body.

Rooker and Supervisor

Rodney Thomas

traveled to Richmond to meet with Connaughton in early June to discuss their plan to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29. The pair lobbied for funding for a $25.7 million project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes from the South Fork of the Rivanna River to Airport Road.

“All the models that we’ve gotten back from the

Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

(TJPDC) have said if [widening] is done, it will relieve some of the traffic congestion,” Thomas said.

While The

Virginia Department of Transportation

(VDOT) has spent $47 million to design and buy property for a western bypass route, elected officials on Charlottesville’s

Metropolitan Planning Organization

(MPO) have never approved money to be saved for construction. To actually build the 6.2 mile road would cost an estimated $230 million, according to VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter.

Rooker said Connaughton told him and Thomas that it was doubtful the bypass would be built any time soon.

“He made it clear that [the state] didn’t have the money for it,” Rooker said.

Secretary Connaughton was not available for comment.

Thomas said he supports the bypass, but wants to address immediate traffic issues on U.S. 29. which has an average daily traffic volume of 50,000 vehicles at the South Fork bridge according to data from the TJPDC.

Thomas said he would favor a plan to sell parts of the right of way in order to pay for other transportation projects to address congestion on U.S. 29.

“I would rather get U.S. 29 widened because it is such a dangerous road right now,” Thomas said.

The invitation for the meeting did not specify that Connaughton seeks any particular solution, according to Christie. He said he hoped for positive dialogue.

“We’re not going in with a list of demands or a list of expectations,” Christie said. “We’re going in listening and anxious to give feedbacks and comments.”

At times, rhetoric between the two communities has been heated. For example, Lynchburg State

Senator Stephen Newman (R-23)

has called for the Charlottesville MPO to be stripped of its authority over U.S. 29.

But Rooker said the meeting offers an opportunity for Albemarle officials to explain the many ways in which they’re trying to address congestion on U.S. 29.

“We will try to extend the hand of friendship and see what might be accomplished,” Rooker said.