Three Questions VDOT Must Answer at Tonight’s Charlottesville Bypass Meeting
A public meeting tonight will address the latest in a long series of troubling developments with the controversial Charlottesville Bypass proposal. Most recently, it has come to light that the current design for the southern end of the bypass would significantly increase travel time and create perilous merging conditions where it connects with the existing 250 Bypass. Tonight’s meeting will focus on that problematic southern interchange.
Although VDOT signed a contract with a road-builder last summer, two federal agencies must still decide whether the project should move forward. That decision will partly depend on whether the Federal Highway Administration determines that VDOT has shared with the public the true extent of the impacts the bypass would have on the community, and how the bypass compares with other solutions.
As reported in March, VDOT’s decision to sign a contract for a “bargain-basement” bypass – despite concerns about the functionality of the low-cost design, particularly the southern end of the bypass – has backfired and the agency is now considering design alternatives.
VDOT is holding the meeting to get feedback from the public on different design options, but the community deserves answers to three key questions in this ongoing debacle:
1. Is this a bait-and-switch?
VDOT signed a contract last year for the lowest bid it received on the bypass, which brought it in just under the dollar amount that state officials had promised the public. The low-cost design includes a southern terminus with two traffic lights and a stretch with an 11% incline, which is almost three times as steep as the climb up Interstate 64 over Afton Mountain. According to internal VDOT documents, it will take trucks nearly three minutes just to get through these obstacles at the southern terminus and onto the bypass. Further, the low-cost design would also create traffic and safety problems where drivers would merge between the bypass and the existing 250 bypass near Ivy Road, adding to the serious congestion challenges drivers already face along that stretch today.
So is this a classic case of bait-and-switch? Did VDOT accept the low-bid proposal, knowing it had major problems, just to get the project approved within budget? And will they now require taxpayers to pick up the tab for costly changes to fix these known problems? Given the project’s tainted history of a midnight vote and intense local opposition, we deserve to know if VDOT has been fully transparent with the public.
2. How much more will taxpayers be asked to pay for a design that works?
The current plan for the bypass would already cost taxpayers nearly $250 million to bypass only four miles of Route 29. Now VDOT is considering new designs since the design it selected for the southern interchange appears untenable. Will VDOT tell the public how much more these new designs are likely to cost before moving forward? Will VDOT tell the public how many other design changes will be needed?
3. VDOT is willing to look at alternatives for the southern terminus of the bypass, so why won’t they consider smarter, less expensive options for the bypass itself?
It’s a relief to see that VDOT is finally acknowledging the problems with the southern interchange and is looking at alternatives to this aspect of the low-bid design. But why has VDOT refused to compare the entire bypass proposal to more cost-effective and less destructive alternatives?
SELC, our partners, and the community are advocating for Go29 (LetsGo29.org) – an approach that addresses traffic backups on 29 directly and creates more ways to reach multiple destinations, all without a destructive bypass. This community deserves better than the bypass, and all Virginians deserve a smarter and more cost-effective option to be considered before we move any further down the path of the flawed bypass.