New survey shows more than half of locals want the Bypass—so what’s next?

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Paul Wright recently launched Bypass29Now, an advocacy group supporting construction of the Western Bypass. Staff photo. Paul Wright recently launched Bypass29Now, an advocacy group supporting construction of the Western Bypass. Staff photo.

Since last November’s elections removed from state and local office some of the biggest champions of the proposed Western Bypass, the decades-long debate over whether to build the 6.2-mile, $244 million road around Charlottesville has been in a holding pattern. Albemarle County has seated new anti-Bypass appointees on the area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which could block funding for the project. In Richmond, the newly elected Democratic governor and his transportation secretary pick say they may soon weigh in. And everybody has one eye on the Federal Highway Administration, which has final authority to move the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans for the road forward.

Local proponents of the Bypass aren’t waiting in silence. Paul Wright, a former chairman of the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board who has worked for local Republican campaigns, announced the launch of a new nonprofit advocacy group called Bypass29Now. At a press conference at the County Office Building last week, he made a renewed case for local support of the road, pointing to a newly released UVA study that shows a majority of local residents want it.

“This road needs to be built, because we will never have an opportunity again in our lifetimes where we have the right of way, the money, the state approval, and a design that is ready to go forward,” said Wright.

Opponents claim overpasses at key congested intersections on 29 are a far cheaper alternative, he said, but they don’t take into account the money the state has already sunk into securing much of the right-of-way for the Bypass.

And, as he discussed in detail at the press conference, VDOT’s environmental data contradicts claims made by opposition group Bypass Truth Coalition, another 501c4 formed ahead of the last election, that the road would compromise air quality at the schools along the planned route.

According to a 2012 report on the project, VDOT predicts that thanks to stricter diesel standards, carbon monoxide levels will decrease in the area by 2040, with or without the Bypass—and that they’ll actually drop slightly more should the road be built, apparently because fewer trucks will be idling at stoplights.

“The facts remain that air quality is better and will improve, whether we build the road or not,” said Wright.

That doesn’t satisfy Randy Salzman, one of more than a dozen anti-Bypass activists who showed up at the press conference to pepper Wright with questions and counter-arguments.

Hundreds of studies show traffic pollution has a detrimental effect on child health, Salzman said, and better standards shouldn’t justify putting a road next to schools.

“The first rule of holes is, ‘When you find yourself in one, quit digging,’” he said. “It’s not ‘Grab a jackhammer.’”

Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council, a longtime Bypass opponent who also listened in on Wright’s announcement, put it more bluntly.

“The cars on the Bypass could produce oxygen and maybe a delightful odor, and maybe make my teeth whiter, and it would still be a stupid, wasteful, ineffective project,” he said.

But what of the survey results? Tom Guterbock is the director of UVA’s Center for Survey Research, which conducts the biennial sampling of nearly 1,000 residents of Charlottesville, Albemarle, and surrounding counties with a list of questions—some paid for by local nonprofits, some, like the Bypass questions this year, put together by the center itself. Results are carefully weighted to accurately reflect gender, race, geographic distribution, homeownership, and whether the respondent was reached on a landline or cell phone.

Guterbock said that while there’s been some erosion in support for the idea of a Bypass—69 percent of people said they supported one in 2012, compared to 62 percent this year—the fact that 53 percent of respondents said they favored construction of the current proposed road is revealing.

“There’s not a great deal of fall off in support when you switch from a general bypass question to a specific one,” Guterbock said.

Wright said the survey clearly shows public opinion is aligned with current plans to build the road. But Salzman doesn’t think the results offer the whole story. It’s easy to make the Bypass sound good to people, because the promise of convenience is right there in the name, he said. But the arguments against the project—particularly that there’s a cheaper fix—are hard to convey in a telephone survey.

“When you bring your brain to the discussion, you begin to say, ‘Oh my God, look what’s about to happen,’” Salzman said.

“There is a feeling on both sides of this issue that ‘If the public only knew more, then they would think the way we do,’” Guterbock said. “In my own view, this has been a very well-aired debate.”

Whether all the talk at home will sway the state officials who have a hand on the purse strings remains to be seen.

“I think that there are plenty of facts that have already been laid out there, I will evaluate them,” newly appointed but yet-to-be-confirmed transportation secretary Aubrey Lane told NBC29 earlier this month. “A lot of the decisions, the best decisions particularly in transportation, need local support.”

SPEAK YOUR MIND. Consider yourself well-informed on the Bypass issue? Think there’s more to community input than a yes or a no? We want to hear from you. We’re asking readers to submit brief 300-word essays explaining their views on the project (we wish we could let you write longer, but we have to keep ’em short for space reasons). Send yours to news@c-ville. com by February 5, and be sure to include your full name and a phone number where we can reach you.

 

  • Peter Kleeman

    Carbon Monoxide (CO) is not the major environmental impact of concern near the bypass.. Although CO levels might be unhealthy very close to the road itself, the compounds – many of which are carcinogenic and collectively named “Air Toxics” – are of much greater concern. These Air Toxics are part of diesel exhaust and can have significant health impacts in the vicinity of the roadway. Routing diesel trucks near schools as occurs in the current US 29 Western Bypass design will expose students and school personnel to significantly increased toxic air pollution. [See http://www.epa.gov/air/toxicair/newtoxics.html to see some background on toxic air pollutants].

    • datcv

      There are schools built all along the interstate. Monticello high is close to 64. PVCC is RIGHT next to the interstate. Either we are harming children there, or you are making the absolute worst excuse for not building the bypass (a better argument would be that it is unnecessary and expensive).

      There are houses built along major roadways and interstates ALL OVER the country. Please stop spreading unscientific garbage.

    • Wanago Bob

      Shame on you Mr. Kleeman, you are wrong. You must prove that Charlottesville actually has a pollution problem. We do not.

      Beginning with the 2007 model year, the harmful pollution from heavy-duty highway vehicles will be reduced by more than 90 percent. http://www.epa.gov/oms/highway-diesel/

      The air around the schools will be CLEANER after the road is complete than it is today. There has been too much of those against the bypass hiding behind school children and saying the sky is falling. The sky is cleaner now than it was 10 years ago and will be cleaner in the future because of the EPA. Pollution is bad but your link talks about a pollution which the EPA and DEQ both show we don’t have. Without linking actual pollution here your scare tactics have no validity.

      • Dee Dee

        You are mistaken. It’s a complicated and “new” issue. The health concerns are real. The health issue is about freight truck exhaust or particulate matter, that is “near the road” effecting the air close to where children, and those adults with heart or lung disease breath. Growing children’s lungs are more sensitive than healthy adult lungs. The dose of the particulate matter the children receive, hinges on:
        (1) how many hours/day/ per year children are breathing this and
        (2) how close they are to the road.

        (3) Traffic volume. Studies show effects at lower traffic volumes than VDOT projects.

        It’s not a valid argument to claim that the logical consequence of this concern is that kids shouldn’t shop at Fashion square mall or drive in a car down Route 29, since these are not places kids breath the air for 30 hours per week for twelve years. It is also not valid to think we are suddenly going to move all our schools that are near busy truck routes. But shouldn’t we avoid the problem when we can? Some of the negative health effects that have been identified that are concerning are asthma in children, lung development in children and increased heart attacks in adults.

        This is a separate issue from the general level of air
        pollution in a community. Children in the effected schools will be
        breathing the air close to a freight truck corridor, all day, for up to
        twelve years. The expressed purpose for this bypass is to put more freight trucks on Route 29. The EPA recommends avoiding placing a school next to a busy road. American Heart and American Lung association also acknowledge this issue.

        We didn’t decide to live in Albemarle county to send our kids to schools on a freight truck corridor.

        • Eric H Schmitz

          I agree, the existence of schools already near a hazard is pretty lame justification for doing more of the same.

          I see no justification for the current location of this proposed highway, other than nearly three decades ago it seemed like the least worse of several options, mostly due to cost and organized opposition to a roadway through more open areas (East or West). It starts and ends INSIDE the segments of 29 most congested, and as growth continues, exacerbates rather than solves congestion problems. The notion that building this highway results in less of an environmental hazard than not building it — but streamlining the existing highway with a few grade separated interchanges — is totally silly. Fact is, some folks don’t really care what the average person has to breathe all day, or depend on water for, because their holy grail is saving a minute of travel time. Laughably, a reasonably simple analysis shows even that is not the case for this so-called Bypass.

      • Pekoe

        This analysis is only a bit correct. The 2007 EPA regulations (which are a real improvement) only are directed to new diesel engines which have technology to really take advantage of the low-sulfur content. The average age of a diesel truck on the road is 30 years, so it will be more than a generation before two half-lives of polluting trucks are gone and for these regulations to begin to make a significant difference. Thus, for our schools and our children, this defense of the bypass is no defense at all.

  • Raven

    Anyone who thinks we can just bypass our way out of problems with transportation should really take a look at this article about what happened in Atlanta to create the disaster of the last few days.

    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/atlanta-snow-storm-102839.html#.UuqdU93X5vm

    • datcv

      That’s kind of a gross and pointless comparison. Urban Atlanta has 5 Million people in it. Metro area is closer to 6M.

      • Raven

        Congratulations, you read the headline. Scale isn’t the issue.

        2. Since the 1950s, the car—and the highway—has dominated Atlanta’s transportation system.

        Mayor Ivan Allen…was not able to convince the region to support construction of a transit system. Highway construction, on the other hand, continued apace, abetted by construction-happy legislators.

        3. The transit that eventually was built does not serve the whole region.

        as the metro area grew over the past three decades, those suburban counties have become more diverse, more crowded and more congested. But even if those new residents wanted to use MARTA, it wouldn’t be easy for them to do so.

        • datcv

          Still pointless. The bypass is not a metropolitan transportation system. It is a BYPASS for people traveling through the area to get around local traffic. The population in this area is growing, but we are in no danger of turning into a major sprawling metropolitan area.

          • the platypus

            You must not ever drive up 29 North. Charlottesville is certainly a long way from being a major metropolitan area, but sprawl is precisely what it happening along that road.

            No short bypass is going to make much of a difference in the long drive from Lynchburg to DC if the rest of the road doesn’t have limited access. That isn’t going to happen any time soon and congestion is just going to keep mounting North of Charlottesville.

            The only local beneficiaries of the proposed bypass would be the relatively limited number of people who want to travel between the University and its research park. The rest of us would be much better served if we had overpasses at Rio and Hydraulic. Money wasted on the bypass is going to keep that from happening. No one really wins if it gets built except maybe some contractors.

  • steve rady

    God look at who pushing this this thing! Paul Wright. Ask some the Republicans who he’s worked around here for about this guy. When he’s not helping “the Kooch” get elected governor (or maybe NOT helping-talk to those people), he’s screwing up radio stations, in case you wonder the African-American programming or rock went at WNRN, which he now controls.

    If anyone doubted the turd-like qualities of this expensive, unnecessary, pointless boondoggle (that will probably benefit some of Wright’s friends in some twisted devious manner), just seeing a greenfly like him attracted to it should be warning enough to others….

  • Abdicat

    Would anyone EVER use this Hydraulic/Rio bypass to commute to work?
    This project appears to me only as a giant giveaway to commercial developers.

  • Jeremy Caplin

    Any poll you are citing in your headline is a crude guess at best. Many people may want some actual bypass that travels from north of Cville around the city and rejoins either 64 directly or 29 south.; but I think it is definitely untrue to state in a headline that any majority wants the current route. How could anyone call that a bypass anyway? Building this spur road is a poor use of a giant pot of public money. Once spent, it is unlikely that we would ever again get an additional half a billion to build an actual bypass. This is an example of a giant bureaucracy running on inertia.

    • Graelyn_Brashear

      I’ve heard a few people make that point, so I just want to note, as the story explains, that this survey did ask people for their opinions on the current planned route as well as the idea of a Bypass in general—and so it assumes people have an understanding of VDOT’s plans. That makes it different from the Bypass-related questions on the same survey two years ago. When you go from the general to the more specific question, you see a drop in support of about 10 percentage points, but the surveyors still found majority support for the plan.

      • Eric H Schmitz

        My argument is different. One, that the nature of questions do matter, and I disagree that the questions used — as they’ve been shared with me — are unbiased. Absent any information or context, a question as “simple” as do you support the Western Bypass does NOT guage, let alone asure, awareness NOR an “understanding” of VDOT’s plans. Seriously, we do NOT even have VDOT’s (or SKANSA’s) designs for some of the more critical elements of the roadway — namely the design of either the Southern or Northern terminus. I wouldn’t mind a survey which tested this out with simple questions… I venture that a significant percentage of respondents cannot tell you where this connector begins, ends, or goes with any level of awareness. As a matter of fact, a detailed survey conducted by Mason-Dixon for the Free Enterprise Forum shows that detail;s DO matter, as support for a Bypass to the East was more popular than one to the West, and support for a Bypass terminating South of Airport Road fell to below 20% of the total. So, to me, you are wrong — going from general to most specific — and fully informed — is more than a drop of 10 points. And the worst part? Of course, you won’t read a detailed report of that Mason-Dixon survey in the DP or CT, just the top line support of 2/3 for a generic “bypass”. And, that, IS the issue. This connector is NOT a bypass of any sort — so calling it one IS biased in the first place (and intentionally so). Sorry, but “Bypasses” do not terminate in the middle of one of the fastest growing and most densely developed commercial and residential centers (aka Hollymead/Forest Lakes), they route AROUND them (hence the term “bypass”. Every aspect of “selling” this roadway continues to be dishonest to the core. Just as you, yourself, refer to it as a $244 million project, when we already know that the price tag exceeds that figure substantially. Intentionally or not, people are being fed a steady diet of shorthand, superficial, baloney. That they like baloney, strikes me as irrelevant. The purpose of the print media is (or at least used to be) to inform the public, and keep politics honest.

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