It was no surprise that many audience questions directed at Albemarle County Board of Supervisors candidates in their first debate on Wednesday, focused on the Western Bypass and the late-night vote that gave the controversial project new life.
Thankfully, however, the Bypass did not take over the forum, sponsored by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. Rather, the audience was able to quiz the candidates on a variety of issues, from their plans for economic development and for creating jobs to the debate over raising taxes and education.
When the discussion was directed at the road project, candidates stated their positions with clear and targeted remarks. Rivanna Supervisor Ken Boyd, who is running for re-election against Democrat Cynthia Neff, was asked whether he would demand a new environmental impact study for the Bypass and he responded that the study would be done.
“There is no need to demand it, [the Virginia Department of Transportation] has already told us that they are required to do it,” he said.
Neff, who has been a vocal opponent of the road, asked to slow the progress of the plan so that the study could be included before the contract goes out to bid.
“There has never been overwhelming public support for this bypass,” she said. “It’s been bad for many of our communities from the very beginning and it remains so.”
More after the photo.
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors hopefuls stand before a crowd at the Senior Center for their first debate of the campaign season.
Scott Elliff, a member of the Forest Lakes Community Association, told C-VILLE in early August, that the landscape and traffic patterns of U.S. Route 29 around Forest Lakes have changed considerably from the first time VDOT studied the area. “Fifteen years ago Forest Lakes south was farms and there weren’t any developments around here,” he said.
Even for newcomer Richard McGrain, originally from Western New York, the current design is outdated.
“I have only been here for 2 and a half years, and even I can see that the Bypass that they are intending to construct, would have fit this county 20 years ago. It does not fit now,” he said in an interview. “I am in favor of a bypass, just like the one they got around Lynchburg, but this one is nowhere near as efficient as the one down there.”
Cynthia Collier, who sported a sticker in support of Boyd, said she favors the bypass because she has seen the traffic grow out of control. “I thought we needed it ever since I moved here in 1973,” she said. “If they don’t start it pretty soon, we’ll have to pay that money back to the state, the feds, or whatever. I think we need to get started.
Although over the last few months the debate has almost exclusively involved Neff and Boyd—the road would mostly directly impact the Rivanna District—yesterday other candidates weighed in and made their pleas.
Republican candidate for the Scottsville District James Norwood, said the Western Bypass is a “needed road” since Route 29 North has become the area’s new “Main Street.”
“I can’t believe that this community is so hung up on these infrastructure improvements,” he said. “They need to be done.”
Norwood’s challenger, Democrat Christopher Dumler, agrees that congestion on Route 29 North is a problem, and he even said he is not opposed to a bypass.
“I would not have voted for this bypass had it come before me for a vote, because I do not think this is the right road for Albemarle County,” he said. Rather, Dumler pointed to Places29 as a sound and less expensive transportation infrastructure plan. Norwood and Dumler are campaigning for current Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier’s seat, whose late-night swing vote re-opened the door for this Bypass to become a reality.
There was one aspect all five candidates (current board chair Ann Mallek, a Democrat, is running unopposed for the White Hall District) agreed upon: Local money should remain local. Dumler hinted at tax incentives for businesses and Norwood said private businesses needed to expand.
All candidates recognized the need to partner with UVA and make it possible for small local businesses to break through UVA’s huge procurement bureaucracy. To the question of raising taxes, Boyd and Norwood towed the party lines and said they would not approve an increase in the tax rate. Neff, Dumler and Mallek said the decision should be a conversation with the voters and constituents.