By Sean Tubbs

Dexter Auction

Thursday, June 2, 2011

For the immediate future, Albemarle County’s official policy remains in opposition to the U.S. 29

Western Bypass

. Three Albemarle supervisors were unsuccessful Wednesday in their latest attempt to place the road project back on the transportation priority list for debate and possible funding.

Rodney S. Thomas

asked his fellow

Board of Supervisors

members if they would support

a request he made to the Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board last month

to remove language that prevents the Virginia Department of Transportation from allocating money for the road.

“Constituents and fellow city business partners in the U.S. 29 corridor continually have asked for a bypass, not necessarily the actual western bypass,” Thomas said.

The Western Bypass is a primary road project on the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program. (Click to enlarge)

Since 2002, the entry for the Western Bypass on the MPO’s

transportation improvement program

has included a long paragraph that outlines the MPO’s preference for other alternatives to alleviate congestion on U.S. 29.

“The MPO … believes improvements at intersections on existing U.S. 29 could greatly improve regional through-capacity,” reads the text.

However, the composition of the

MPO policy board

has changed since then, and Thomas is now its chairman.

“By removing the opposition language … this will offer up the possibilities of discussion and getting the funds in order to construct the bypass and widen U.S. 29 north of South Fork of the Rivanna to Hollymead Town Center,” Thomas said.

The idea prompted many members of the public to appear before the board to ask that Thomas be removed from his position on the MPO.

George Larie, president of the

Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition

George Larie, president of the

Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition

, said he was shocked at Thomas’ request.

“This bypass has had massive citizen opposition during public hearings and has consistently been opposed by the Board of Supervisors for over 20 years,” Larie said. “It does not solve the traffic problem on Route 29, which is a local traffic problem, not a through-traffic problem.”

Morgan Butler of the

Southern Environmental Law Center

said reopening the bypass as an active transportation project would take away funding from transportation elements called for in the

Places29 Master Plan

approved earlier this year.

“Ultimately, you decided on a set of consensus projects for the U.S. 29 corridor that would be the county’s priorities for the next five years,” Butler said. “A bypass was not included despite being brought up several times.”

During the debate, Supervisor

Dennis S. Rooker

said the board has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the Western Bypass.

“It’s already been brought up three or four times in the past year,” Rooker said. “The votes have never been there do it, so you keep coming back with it. I guess at some point you’ll catch the public unaware.”

However, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said his interpretation of Thomas’ motion was simply to allow the bypass to be discussed as an option.

“All we’re being asked here to do is not approve any road at all but simply to direct our representatives on the MPO to put this back onto the agenda,” Boyd said. “I’ve always contended we ought to keep the Western Bypass on the table and that’s where I’d like it to be.”

Rooker said the MPO’s line item for the bypass is related to a specific project for which preliminary engineering has been conducted and right of way was been purchased. The project is still listed in the TIP because over $47 million has been spent to date.

“If you want to talk about an eastern bypass or some other bypass, there’s nothing that prevents the MPO from studying that and looking at routes,” Rooker said.

Rooker said he would consider some other bypass route, but that amending the language would pave the way toward funding for construction.

“Going back to pre-2002 and acting like there was no reason why all this was done is imply going to drive a wedge in this community and resurface a debate for a project for which there is no money,” Rooker said.

During the debate, both sides tried to win the vote of Supervisor Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr.

However, Dorrier said the existing alignment is too close to the county’s urban ring and would damage many neighborhoods and schools.

“There’s going to have to be some road put somewhere someday,” Dorrier said. “I think that we can have that debate, but to debate [the Western Bypass] is going to go back with all the problems we’ve got with this road.”

Thomas’ motion to remove the language from the TIP entry failed in a 3-3 tie. Supervisor Duane Snow joined Boyd and Thomas in voting to remove the language, but Supervisors Dorrier, Rooker and Ann H. Mallek voted no.

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