Without Necessary Facts, VDOT Rushes Bid Request for Charlottesville Bypass
The Virginia Department of Transportation last night issued a “request for proposals” for the design and construction of the highly controversial Western Route 29 Bypass in the Charlottesville-Albemarle community. The RFP was issued prematurely, since the agency is months away from getting critical, up-to-date information on traffic levels, tailpipe pollution and other community impacts that could reaffirm the folly of proceeding with the project or result in dramatic alterations to it.
The Southern Environmental Law Center has strenuously objected to this “approve first, answer questions later” approach since the 29 Bypass was suddenly and surreptitiously resurrected this summer.
VDOT’s main environmental impact study of the project is now more than 18 years old, and it has been roughly 15 years since the bypass underwent meaningful traffic modeling. VDOT’s own findings show the road would do little to relieve congestion on Route 29, and the bypass has been rendered even less effective by the significant development that has been built or approved north of its proposed route. Further, public health studies around the country are increasingly showing a link between impaired lung function in children and proximity of schools to major highways, which increases exposure of children to vehicle exhaust. The bypass would run close to six schools in the Charlottesville-Albemarle community.
Federal law requires VDOT to update its studies and reevaluate the project’s impacts before it can be built, but VDOT’s action last night means contractors will be submitting bids before VDOT has gathered that critical information. The agency has indicated it plans to sign a contract before it completes the reevaluation.
The risk of proceeding without taking the time to gather all necessary information was highlighted just last week, when it was revealed that VDOT’s engineers had estimated the total cost of the project at roughly $200 million more than what the agency presented to the Commonwealth Transportation Board July 20 when the board approved funding for the bypass.
Following is a statement from Morgan Butler:
“VDOT has turned sound transportation planning on its head. In rushing to push out this RFP without essential facts in hand, the agency is putting taxpayer money on the line, people’s property in jeopardy, and the community’s health at risk-all before it has adequate information.
“It simply does not make sense to request bids to build a project or enter into a contract before you’ve done a meaningful analysis to see whether the project will be effective and what type of impacts it will have on the community.”