Last chance? Hundreds attend Western 29 Bypass forum

Opponents of the Western 29 Bypass, including mega-selling author John Grisham, turned out in force September 27 to voice their dismay with the controversial road.  

The Virginia Department of Transportation held the Thursday night forum at Jack Jouett Middle School, behind which the highway will pass, to get public review and comment on an environmental assessment report, which is required for approval by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the last sign-off the controversial project needs.

Can citizen objections stop the bypass?

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think so," said Grisham, who sent out a pre-meeting email through Southern Environmental Law Center urging turnout.

Grisham was blunt in his assessment of the road: "It's a typical pork scam with the politicians working for votes while businesses scramble for a buck, and taxpayers are stuck with the bill."

He mentioned the Albemarle Board of Supervisors' June 8, 2011, near-midnight vote that resurrected the presumed-dead project.

"We got sucker-punched last year by three members of the board," said Grisham, "but we're still fighting."

The proximity of the bypass to six schools with 4,000 kids is one of Grisham's top concerns. "We have no idea about the effect of diesel fumes," he said. "That has not been studied." He also said the impact on the Rivanna Reservoir has not been studied.

"We've got thousands of roads that need repair, and we're spending a quarter of a billion dollars on this road," said the author. "It makes me mad."

Many in attendance were wearing "Stop the bypass" stickers, including Albemarle supervisors Dennis Rooker, Ann Mallek, Christopher Dumler, and former supe Sally Thomas.

Environmental groups that have long opposed the Western 29 Bypass– Southern Environmental Law Center, Piedmont Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club– set up shop at the school's entrance.

The newly revised environmental assessment is "based on stale and outdated information from 20 years ago," said Morgan Butler with the Law Center.

"Fortunately, federal law requires that they update information so an informed decision can be made," said Butler. "Unfortunately, the update we've been given is asking the public to put on blinders."

According to Butler, one of the flaws with VDOT's environmental assessment is that it doesn't consider bypass alternatives. The Southern Environmental Law Center produced a video this summer that offered options "more logical and less damaging," said Butler, to open up the blockages on U.S. 29 and keep traffic flowing.

He also noted that the assessment doesn't mention the Rivanna Trail, which is in the path of the bypass.

"Federal law requires the [Federal Highway Administration] have accurate information," said Butler. "This study by VDOT doesn't satisfy that requirement."

Inside the cafeteria, VDOT set up displays around the room and had staff on hand to answer questions. At a map of the southern terminus of the bypass at UVA's North Grounds, retiree Chris Gale pointed to the steepness of the bypass' proposed route up Stillhouse Mountain.

"Afton Mountain is a six percent grade," he said. "This is 11 percent."

Gale saw something else that bothered him. "Look at what it does for the reservoir," he said. "With trucks going by– every morning on WMRA there's a [report of a] truck that's flipped over on Interstate 81."

VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter declined to speculate about whether the Federal Highway Administration actually could kill the Western 29 Bypass.

"We'll address the comments, make a revised environmental assessment, and present it to the FHWA," said Hatter "They'll make an assessment and let us know if we need more work."

Not everyone at the meeting opposes the bypass. Supervisor Ken Boyd, the man credited with facilitating the vote that breathed new life into the bypass, was asked by citizen Michael Levine, "Is it a fait accompli?"

"Pretty close," Boyd replied.

Boyd was more circumspect when a reporter asked whether the Federal Highway Administration could stop the project. "I don't know," said Boyd. "They're an unknown. They're holding all the marbles now."

He said that some concerns had already been addressed. For example, the road had been moved behind Jouett where there was a walking trail. And he said a berm had been added at the reservoir. And he debunked the perception that people are overwhelmingly opposed to the bypass.

"That's just not true," said Boyd. "Charlottesville Tomorrow did a survey in March that showed 70 percent were in favor of the bypass."

"Here, they're mostly against it," observed Brenda Boyd, who was there with her husband. "They're passionate."

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Obstructionist doing what they do best, obstructing.

Build the bypass already. Get the truck traffic off of Route 29. Give us an alternate major road in case an emergency forces temporary closure of Route 29. Tell Dennis Rooker we don't care about his ego -- and Grisham and Butler to take a hike (literally and figuratively).

Polling time and time again shows a strong majority of residents FAVOR building the Route 29 bypass. Build it and let's move on!

sure lets spend milliions on a plan from 20 years ago. not much has changed in the last 20 years . I don't think there have been any new houses schools and neighborhoods that would be adversly affected.

Where were these groups and Mr. Grisham when we were trying to stop the new Ragged Mt. Reservoir ? - which by the way puts what will be our only water supply under I64.

"According to Butler, one of the flaws with VDOT's environmental assessment is that it doesn't consider alternatives to the bypass. Southern Environmental Law produced a video this summer that offered options "more logical and less damaging,"

" Grisham.... said the impact on the Rivanna Reservoir has not been studied. "

The Sierra Club was the only group that fought the dam/pipeline boondoggle that will cost us more than the bypass in the end, with no state or federal money to pay for it, only us ratepayers. There were cheaper alternatives that did far less environmental damage and supplied all the water we needed for 50 years or more.

And these same environmental groups, minus the Sierra Club, never said a peep about a road through a park - the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Have you seen this Mr. Grisham and friends ? Talk about pork and environmental devastation , here it is

If it had been built 20 years ago we would be using it still. The age of the plan doesn't make it a bad one. It would have been built years ago except for Dennis Rooker and Charlotte Humphries. These ultimate NIMBYs used every trick in the book to kill this road and their outrage is they got out maneuvered. Rooker other outrage is he will be able to see the road from his back yard and his wife is a founding member of the group that has been trying to stop the road. Why the Hook or any other paper has looked into this obvious conflict of interest and perhaps even self dealing, I could not say

Grisham perpetuates the "midnight vote" myth. The night of the 2nd vote only one person changed their vote and it was not one of the 3 Grisham is referring to. It was Lindsey Dorrier who had gotten a call from the Sec of Transportation saying the state would make the money available. The state did as the promised and allocated the money not only for that project but millions for other need road improvements as well.

This road was also the central issue in Ken Boyd's last campaign, he won by a comfortable margin because a majority of voters favor building the road. This what democracy looks like and that's what those opposed to this road have a problem with. The road would help the rest of the state (who want the road built overwhelmingly). Why must Albemarle be held hostage by a dedicated band of rich NIMBY's who can't believe their superior wealth can't buy them a victory?

Remember when Rooker and Morgan Butler promised us that the road would cost 400 - 500 million. They pounded the table and told us why no company would ever build it for the amount of money allocated. They were wrong by a great deal- why do we keep listening to people who will say anything to stop this road?

And they told us dredging South Fork, as an alternative to a new dam and uphill pipeline, would cost as much as dredging the panama canal. Who would believe these people ?

Whether you look at the dam, or the bypass, the one point I'll concede is the big driver is: Development Interests. They have the political power so they have the votes. They do not represent the public good or the environmental good- they represent their own gain. And we the ratepayers and taxpayers are paying to fill their bank accounts and drain our own.

This road should never be built. The environmental degradation will be enormous, taking us one more step towards a Tyson's Corner level of traffic mismanagement. And it will not solve the problem of diverting enough traffic up to "them" in Greene County and away from"us" in Albemarle. Anyone who has driven past the airport can see that.

City resident - Ragged Mountain reservoir has been at risk from I-64 ever since the highway was built. Making Ragged bigger doesn't change the fact that its already downhill from a potential truck spill. The streams that feed Ragged already pass under the interstate, the exact same situation exists at South Fork already, too. Even without trucks, a passenger vehicle has enough fuel in it to spoil a reservoir, and thousands of them pass over South Fork every day on the TWO roads that already cross it. The big driver there is just everyday drivers...

What galls me is the people opposed to the bypass throw up this reservoir issue and yet never spoke up about not only heightening the risk at ragged mt. but allowing South Fork to
silt in , thereby increasing the risk if there was a spill into Ragged Mt.

The bypass would not be necessary if they'd implement some of the sensible traffic remedies on 29, described in the Places 29 plan. It's the developers and monied interests, along with the hicks in Lynchburg, who think this bypass is a great idea. It's a stupid idea on its face--anyone can see that. Albemarle county had an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of northern
Virginia and other communities, and they chose not to, probably because the right wingers on the BOS think transit is "socialist" or something. Idiots.

This road project is typical of big government. Spending our tax money on something we don't need in order to put our money in the pockets of special interests.

Sometimes one word makes all the difference in the world- Ken Boyd references a question where 70% of respondents said they favored "a" bypass, NOT the 6.2 mile so-called bypass currently in question.
Mr. Boyd has also said previously that his reelection was, in effect, a referendum on the proposed bypass- I believe it is much more likely a result of concern about a raise in property taxes in these uncertain economic times.

The protesters would be more credible if they quit complaining about the "dangers" of having a bypass built alongside schools, since Hwy 250 already borders at least 5 by my count and I've never heard anyone worry about ill effects there. At one time I actually respected the Southern Environmental Law Center, but not since I've seen their disingenuous involvement in this.

There is no through-traffic. 15, 60, 85,-- lots of other routes.

@Gail, I would gladly pay more in property taxes so the schools could buy their own kleenex and whiteboard markers. I am so tired of the begging every year.

The meeting notice said we would get answers to our questions but that did not happen to my questions because The Suits did not know ANYTHING!. Many of them were new to VDOT and new to Virginia! Whenever I ask if they knew the history of the Warrenton Bypass they just looked at me as though I was "off subject" but this Charlottesville Bypass is exactly like the first Warrenton bypass which was "built too short and ended in a still congested area on both ends". So VDOT had to go farther EAST and build the current Warrenton Bypass which they have now allowed businesses to develop along the northern end with too many traffic lights!. Charlottesville is starting out with businesses already at the northern end of its proposed bypass which will become another bottleneck. If you don't know the history you are likely to repeat it and when I explained this to a couple of the VDOT Suits last night they were just "amazed" and "no one had ever brought this to their attention". They were lying because I have brought this up at many meetings over the past 25 years.
Yes, Charlottesville needs a by-pass but it needs to start around Ruckersville and go to Zion's Crossroads where it can connect to I-64 to carry both east and west traffic as well as to Rt. 15 (another north south route through the center of Virginia) to take some traffic off Rt. 29.
When I asked if their posted number of "68% of already purchased right-of-way" included the new MPO proposed 8 mile extenstion to the north of the end of the bypass, I was told that it did not. Many of The Suits did not know about the northern 8 mile extension! When I asked about the 11% grade at Stillhouse Mtn I was told that "tonight is not about design issues so we don't know if that is true or not". If they don't know about the grade then how can I tell them if the noise from trucks pulling that grade would be disturbing to me or not? What a waste of my time to go to this meeting. VDOT could not answer my questions, as usual! Hopefully, they will remember my questions when they read my suggestions. So don't forget to send your written response in before Oct. 9 to Angel Deem, Environmental Division, VDOT, 1221 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Now you know how the anti-dam people felt after 5 years of going to meetings and trying to be heard. Sometimes the facts don't matter. It's all about politics and even though Mr. Boyd, Snow, and Thomas may say they are fiscally conservative - don't you believe it. If their friends in the development community say jump - they jump, no matter what the hour.

Here is the bottom line: Every community along Route 29 -- from the NC border to DC -- has built a bypass. C'ville, with its planning commission (or lack thereof) has made its own mess along 29. Most of us have found other ways around it, which I am sure thrills the hoity-toity horse-farm owners along the scenic byways, but the By-Pass needs to be built. Back in the Kennedy administration, C'ville influentials got I-64 re-routed from its original and much-needed east-west route from Tidewater to Bristol. C'ville got what it wanted: the interstate along with the jobs and the crime and so forth, and -- if you look at a map -- is a road to nowhere. Thanks, JFK! Build the damn bypass! And quit whining!

Build it!

Wow! I only visit Charlottesville once a year, so I have limited on hand experience, but you need a bypass. A highway passing a school? Shocking! Oh yeah, it happens everywhere! Truck accidents spilling fuel into water? Really? So you want to stop driving over water? Does this sound stupid to anyone else? Here is what I know: traffic on this stretch of road is a nightmare with even light traffic. The morons suggesting redoing intersections along this stretch including bridges never mention how bad the traffic would be DURING construction. It would be God awful! And even they admit that it wouldn't save much money. Bottom line? I'd wager that almost every opponent simply does not want the bypass going near their property. That makes sense, but is a selfish reason. Nobody ever wants a highway put in near their house, but it is often for the greater good. That traffic cluster F needs to be fixed in a realistic way, and this is it. Suck it up. Grow up. Start digging - in an environmentally safe way of course.

This "bypass" isn't going to bypass anything. It's nothing more than a colossal waste of money that will make almost no positive change in the traffic situation. If it had been built 20 years ago then later development would have had to happen differently, but since the county planners have let things progress with no thought for how it might fit in with a bypass, it's far too late for that outdated plan to work.