Supervisors adopt recommendations of second Western Bypass task force

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has unanimously endorsed a set of recommendations made by a task force convened to provide public input on the design of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29.

“We need to make sure that our community is reasonably protected,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, the creator and chair of the Jack Jouett Bypass Design Committee.

The resolution will be forwarded to VDOT officials responsible for preparing an addendum to the request for proposals that was initially issued in late September. The update will be shared with firms bidding on the project on Tuesday.

The recommendations include a design speed of 50 miles per hour, at least $5 million in measures to reduce noise and limiting construction to 12 hours a day.

“The [current] RFP actually allowed for 24-hour construction,” Rooker said. “They’re talking about construction going on for four or five years. I think that’s an impermissible burden to expect people to bear.”

Additional requests include $1.2 million in landscaping, $5 million to pay for bridge aesthetics and a request that stoplights not be used at the southern terminus.

The committee was made up of representatives from affected neighborhoods, the University of Virginia and the private and public schools along the route.

“We are very interested in the noise remediation and interested in a replacement of an athletic field at Greer Elementary that will be way to close to the road,” said Josh Davis, the interim chief operating officer for Albemarle County public schools.

The committee met three times with Harold Jones, VDOT’s project manager for the bypass.

Rooker said Jones had instructed the task force to specify budgetary amounts for items to mitigate the impacts of the bypass.

“In a design-build contract, [bidders] have no incentive to add anything that’s not in the existing RFP because they’re trying to come in lower than everyone else,” Rooker said. “It puts every bidder on an even playing field if they all have to include it in the budget.”

Another recommendation is that no section of the road should have a grade that exceeds 4.5 percent. That would likely increase the amount of rock that will have to be excavated, but will make the road fit better into the landscape.

“If you go over the hill, you may have more grade,” Rooker said. “Cutting through the hill allows neighborhoods to be more protected by the surrounding hill. Long-term, if you [raise] the grades, the more traffic noise there will be.”

Many members of the task force urged the board to support their recommendations, such as Mark Kasten, the executive director of the Colonades senior living community.

“While I still feel this bypass is not the right bypass and that its construction could mean the end of the Collonades, I’m hopeful that if the construction does move forward, these initiatives will be enough to lessen the impact,” Kasten said.

Mark Stanis represented the University of Virginia on the task force.

“We are concerned as other groups about the impact [of the southern terminus] on our people and concerned enough that we are doing our own assessment of the impact,” Stanis said.

Albemarle County resident Donna Vande Pol said she believed an internal VDOT estimate that the road would cost $436 million rather than the $245 allocated by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

“Cutting the cost by half will result in negative environmental [impacts], noise, health and safety impacts, and a less aesthetically attractive design,” Vande Pol said.

The recommendations had the support of all the supervisors.

“I read through [the resolution] four times, item by item, and asked if there was anything unreasonable and I couldn’t find a thing,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow.

Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas said the only thing he disagreed with was the design speed for the road.

“I would rather have it at 60 miles per hour,” Thomas said, explaining he wanted the road to move traffic and not to be a parkway.

However, Rooker said VDOT did not seem to mind the recommendation when it was discussed at the meetings.

“I think they think that they can perhaps get lower bids if the design speed is not as high,” Rooker said.

In October, the board endorsed another set of recommendations from a task force convened by Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd.