Both candidates for the county Board of Supervisors’ Rivanna District—Democrat Cynthia Neff and incumbent Republican Ken Boyd—agree that northern Albemarle needs a bypass around 29N. They simply don’t agree on the definition of “bypass,” a word that may well define their race for Boyd’s supervisor seat.
“We have to deal with the transportation issue in this county. We can’t just keep growing and not build any roads,” says Boyd, one of four supervisors to vote in favor of the roughly $300 million Western Bypass. Following a July 27 vote by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the decades-old road project is slated for $230 million in state earmarks, and carries a pledge from the Commonwealth Transportation Board to fund additional local transportation priorities.
“We do need a bypass. It would be great if there was a bypass, but this is not a bypass,” says Neff. “This is a little connector road, 6.2 miles for $300 million. And I would bet a year of my salary that the cost will be closer to $400 million by the time it’s done.”
During a town hall meeting in Forest Lakes last week, Neff told Boyd that he’d made the Western Bypass a political issue. Boyd, who called the meeting to discuss the Bypass design and engineering with three representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), said that wasn’t the case.
“I am not here politicking tonight,” he said, microphone in hand. “I am here as a Supervisor. This is not the political event that you are trying to turn it into.”
However, the same project decided a previous Board of Supervisors contest in 1994 and has returned as one of the most divisive issues in county government—enough political context to ask whether the road may decide the fates of Boyd and Neff.
Boyd explained to C-VILLE that his decision to support the Bypass has not been driven by local politics, but by politics at the state level. He says he is not concerned about the political fallout on his campaign.
“As an elected official, I have to do what’s right,” says Boyd. “I have never tried to be someone that I am not. I don’t go out and tell people that I am going to do something and then legislate some other way. This is something I believe is good for our community and I am voting in favor of it because I feel that way.”
Neff, who announced her candidacy for Boyd’s Rivanna seat days after county supervisors voted to support the Bypass, tells C-VILLE that the road is one of the reasons she decided to enter the race. She believes the project lacks basic environmental and traffic information, as do the residents she spoke with during her campaign.
“[People] are very concerned about the Bypass, and I would say that it is the No. 1 issue,” she says. “How can we go forward and approve this when we don’t have all the information? The plan is ancient in planning circles and in the world of business.”
Scott Elliff, a member of the Forest Lakes Community Association, believes too much has changed in his part of the county, the general vicinity of the Bypass’ northern terminus, to vote on a project without current traffic flow data.
“Fifteen years ago Forest Lakes south was farms and there weren’t any developments around here,” he says. “I am still concerned, I suppose, cautiously optimistic. The train is running very fast on this.”