Charlottesville 29 Bypass Far From a “Done Deal”
Despite this summer's rush job by local and state officials to push through the long-dormant, controversial western bypass of U.S. 29, the project is far from a done deal, two leading conservation organizations said today. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Piedmont Environmental Council held a press conference to send a clear message to the Charlottesville-Albemarle community and decision-makers that the 29 bypass has a long way to go. “There are a lot of misconceptions about the status of this project. We want to make clear to the community that the bypass is not a done deal. There are many critical steps still to go, many questions that need to be answered, before the first shovel of dirt is turned,” said Trip Pollard, SELC Land and Community Program Director. “Citizens need to demand that local and state officials provide a full accounting of the impacts and costs of this project before any further steps are taken to advance it.” “Far from bypassing the developed segments of Route 29, this highway begins and ends in traffic. From the northern terminus, drivers would still have to travel past Hollymead Town Center, the North Grounds Intelligence Center, UVA's Research Park, and other planned development,” said Jeff Werner, PEC Charlottesville-Albemarle Land-Use Field Officer. “Every scrap of evidence over the past decade or more shows that this highway will do little to improve local or through-traffic.” The Federal Highway Administration has to approve road projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The law requires a thorough consideration of the environmental, health, and community impacts of choosing a particular route, as well as alternatives to achieve the proposal's purpose. NEPA also requires public participation at several stages to help agencies make informed decisions. An environmental impact statement was done on the 29 bypass in the early 1990s. SELC, PEC and the Sierra Club filed suit challenging that study, and the court agreed that the impacts of the project on the South Fork Rivanna River reservoir had not been adequately considered, so a supplemental study was required. Because no action was subsequently taken on the project, NEPA requires a reevaluation of the study, which is now 18 years out of date. At an Albemarle Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Transportation presented a timeline for proceeding with the bypass that would seek bids to design and build the project and enter into a contract before the necessary information is updated and the public is able to comment on it. “So now we know a bit more about what VDOT has in mind. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but it is clear that this 'ready, fire, aim' approach is not adequate to get the data to make an informed decision and the public involvement they suggest would be too little too late,” Pollard said. “The 29 bypass is not a NIMBY issue. Every community, every citizen in the Commonwealth should take note and be concerned about the waste of resources, the willingness to bulldoze ahead without adequate information, and the disregard for public input demonstrated here.” **************************** The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional conservation organization using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. WEB: www.SouthernEnvironment.org FACEBOOK: http://www.fanofselc.org TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/selc_org
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