Western Bypass battle looms large before meetings

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Weeks after the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors held a late, unexpected vote that supported the removal of language barring a shelved Western Bypass, local officials and residents are gearing up for a pair of public hearings that promise to be as controversial as the project itself. Supervisors Dennis Rooker and Ann Mallek, dissenters in the 4-2 vote to remove the language, recently penned an editorial that calls the project "more obsolete than it was 21 year ago," while Supervisors Ken Boyd, Rodney Thomas, Duane Snow and Lindsay Dorrier elaborated on their reasons for supporting the project and holding a very sudden vote.

Now, other local organizations are readying their arguments. In a half-page ad in today’s Daily Progress, the North Charlottesville Business Council called the Western Bypass "critical," and added that a funding pledge from Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell, might be "our last opportunity to receive this funding support."

Yesterday, the Virginia West Business & Legislative Coalition—which includes Charlottesville among its 14 represented chambers of commerce—sent a letter to Governor Bob McDonnell that calls the bypass a "vital national transportation corridor." It also says the road will "serve as a catalyst of economic development for many localities throughout central and Southside Virginia, including the cities of Lynchburg and Danville." Republican state senator Steve Newman, who represents Lynchburg and Bedford County, already spoke favorably of the project.

Locally, some officials and residents are concerned that a $230 million bypass and expansion of U.S. 29 could reallocate funds from other transportation projects that were prioritized after the bypass idea was shelved circa 2002. One such priority is Berkmar Drive Extended which, according to Albemarle Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier, Secretary Connaughton pledged to fund along with the bypass. Connaughton subsequently denied that pledge, according to reports.

Waldo Jaquith explains a few of the other doubts surrounding the bypass’ return. To wit: The Commonwealth Transportation Board did not approve any money for the Western Bypass in its $8.3 billion highway construction plan, and there is some concern over Supervisor Dorrier’s decision-making abilities due to Parkinson’s Disease.

In 2007, as Attorney General, McDonnell published an opinion that stated the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District would need to reimburse the Federal Highway Administration for any bypass funds, should the road not be constructed. The money would come from the highway construction funds for the Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District, which includes Albemarle and Charlottesville. Former Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer later opined that additional federal funds not used to construct the bypass could be reallocated to other local transportation priorities if the bypass was not built.

 

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