Letter: Bypass stinks but should still be built

In his May 23 Essay, "Barnum's Beaming: The greatest bypass on Earth!", Randy Salzman is incensed with the "bait and switch" tactics employed by the Skanska-Branch Corp. and VDOT in the "design/build" process for constructing the Western Bypass. He should be. So am I. To initially accept an obviously inferior, low-ball proposal, then turn around and modify it without an open competition is outrageous. But, to translate this outrage into an excuse to not build the Western Bypass at all makes no sense.

As a "transportation researcher," he knows the importance of the big picture in making transportation decisions. And the big, overwhelming issue here is, "How do we make the connection with US 29 south and US 29 north?" That was the whole purpose of the VDOT meeting at the Holiday Inn on Thursday night. 

Understandably, the residents of Colthurst and Canterbury Hills would prefer to see it moved to somewhere else. Where else? The default location must be the current intersection at Emmet Street and the US 250 bypass.
This is the bottleneck; this is where the US 29 corridor so spectacularly fails; and this intersection has been left out of the county sponsored Places 29 study.

Randy suggests that we could simply build grade-separated interchanges with US 29 at Rio and Hydraulic Roads for only $80 million. This figure is suspect. In 2003, the extensive 29H250 study projected a cost of $89.2 million for the Hydraulic/250 bypass intersection alone. Even that figure is probably too low, since Best Buy, Whole Foods and the Shops at Stonefield have occupied the area. Moreover, the relatively uncomplicated extension of Hillsdale Drive is anticipated to cost $26 million. And it involves no new bridges and little right-of-way acquisition. This tight triangular area, which is the city's third most productive site in terms of commercial taxes, is not an easy place to build new roads.

So how do we connect US 29 north with US 29 south?

The Western Bypass is one solution. It has advantages and disadvantages.  As a city resident, I see its major advantage as providing another connection into the University grounds. (Have you ever watched traffic on Emmet Street on a Friday afternoon when it is effectively backed up to Memorial Gym?) Truckers stuck in line trying to get on to the 250 bypass and US 29 south probably see a different advantage.

Yes, the Western Bypass also has significant disadvantages. It is no longer a true bypass since the county has grown far beyond its original northern terminus. It is far too close to several county schools (even if some were deliberately sited to impede the bypass). The late night tactics used to pass its approval at the Board of Supervisors still rankles, and the VDOT mishandling of the design/build process has been appalling.

So, there is a lot to dislike.

But, what is our alternative? I have attended CHART and MPO meetings for over 10 years and have heard a great deal of condemnation, but no other viable options. Moreover, further delay only limits our available choices. For example, the granting of conservation easements has ruled out any possible bypass to the east of the city.

To paraphrase Churchill's famous evaluation of democracy as a form of government: the Western Bypass is the worst possible solution to our US 29 congestion— except for all the other alternative options.

John Pfaltz


I applaud Mr. Pfaltz for his diligence in attending the planning meetings for so long and am surprised that he hasn't involved himself further by serving on them. Perhaps if we had a voice like his ten years ago then we might have put together a thoughtful plan to address traffic concerns. Sadly, that's no longer the case.

Traffic between Forest Lakes and Barracks is a mess and based on the expansion of the road that has occurred since I first came to Charlottesville, it's clear that merely expanding the black top will not suffice. Nor, however, will laying down another road, especially one whose design renders it obsolete and over budget. The argument for the road's current placement is based on a study that's 20 years old and the author of which made assumptions about road use that were contrary to reality. Charlottesville is a destination, not an impediment on the way to some other destination, for the vast majority of drivers that are headed south on 29 from Forest Lakes. Were a proper study to be undertaken, I am confident that it would find that the ratio of drivers looking for a bypass and those looking to get to points in and around Charlottesville is negligible.

So, if these throngs of vehicles aren't making their way to some far off place, south of Charlottesville, what can be done? I think it's time for the City and the County to become true stewards of our community and not just beholden to eager developers and contractors. The single-minded focus on growth has been the direct downfall of every bubble that has ever fractured an economy, and the same could happen in Charlottesville. In order to grow as a region, we do not need to balloon in population, we do not need to triple our shopping establishments, expand our car parks, level our forests and replace them with row after row of cheaply built, boring townhomes. We need to acknowledge that what makes our community unique are the spaces that exist as they are. To that end, the right step to control growth and congestion is to discourage personal transportation and encourage mass transportation. There's no easy way to do this, and to some degree it will be as destructive as the bypass. But the difference is that the Western Bypass will be a bandaid placed on a festering wound that will soon become gangrenous and take the whole limb. A successful transportation plan that moves us away from the cycle of sprawl that has sucked the life out of communities once as diverse and interesting as Charlottesville, will hurt now, but be worth it in the decades that follow.

You said it well, Jason. The bypass fails any cost-benefit analysis. Development is changing the character of Charlottesville, and not for the better.

As commented numerous times before, there is nothing wrong with the current road alignment that couldn't be fixed by eliminating all the lights, constructing a few grade separated interchanges, and frontage roads for local traffic.

The Rd. itself (29) is quite OK and all the clogging is just the result of years of ad hoc temporary expedients (dedicated to the cheapest possible solutions) which have saddled an otherwise fine highway with dozens of traffic lights put there so that ancient rural road traffic patterns could be preserved and every new commercial project could have access via crossovers and left turns to either direction on 29. While this can work one time, it cannot work dozens of times and the problem is local planners and VDOT have just done each crossing as though it were that one time.

Re-engineering Rt. 29 thusly would be cheaper and better than building a bypass, especially the curtailed version presently contemplated. The businesses now peppering both sides of 29 would have to accept other means of access. Many of them are not worth sacrificing the public good for anyhow. How many drive throughs do we really need for people to buy various iterations of fried chicken anyhow? Hundreds of local businesses on old Rt. 66 withered when I-40 replaced it and life goes on. Regardless, the construction of all the amenities to reduce congestion on 29 could be done piecemeal over the course of years, but doing so would require long term thinking, something in short supply in our bailiwick...

Angel Eyes, how would you feel if your house or business was made obsolete by a new road that took away your access? Your thought process is extremely flawed and if push came to shove there's no way you would sacrifice your own personal asset for something like this. Now multiply that by 100+ owners who will not let their assets be 'withered' without a fight.

And honestly, traffic ain't that bad. Go live in Hampton Roads or Northern Virginia or parts of Richmond and report back to me. You cannot continue to have all the accolades that Charlottesville receives and not expect growth. We've managed it pretty well to this point and the people in charge continue to try to put the areas best interest first. A bunch of armchair quarterbacks without requisite field knowledge about traffic patterns, logistics, costs are of no use to the discussion. Public input is great and all, but if you were told you could sit in on a public forum on NASA's plan for the next 10 years I'm sure there would be plenty of people with an opinion, however invalid and worthless they might be.

I like Mr. Pfaltz and supported him for City Treasurer, but we've argued many times about this and the nub of it is precisely what Angel Eyes says above: the best solution is to fix the existing corridor rather than attempt to bypass it with an already obsolete and horrendously expensive temporary fix (so termprary, it's already irrelevant).

I've asked Mr. Pfaltz in person a number of times:what will you do about 29N from the Rivanna River to the Rapidan River? So far as having "no viable alternatives" - no answer to the question - Mr. Pfaltz supplies wishful thinking about an even more dubious project: a bypass extension which runs up more or less alongside the old original US-29 alignment (the Earlysville Rd) all the way up to US33.

This amounts to a parallel limited access road - think of I-64 and US-250. What is the realistic likelyhood of that? The issue isn't bait-and-switch from a contractor - it's building an already obsolete road which is not even substantially useful in a future project.

Better to simply FIX the existing alignment and corridor - limit access and create access roads on either side. Require new subdivisions to include GSEs with sufficient on/off-ramp buffers as part of their proffers.

All the existing western bypass would accomplish is a reduction in commute times for homeowners in northern Albemarle subdivisions, probably sweetening property values there. Follow the money.

Downtown Brown, I'd wager that access would actually improve for many businesses if through lanes were put in place on 29. People can easily learn new traffic patterns, but you can't rebuild the countryside once it's been demolished for a road, and development will only follow. The only people who will benefit from the bypass are developers, and they have it easy enough as it is. Do we really want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize them, when we could spend much less and improve existing roads? Any way you slice it, the bypass makes no sense. You are right--traffic really isn't that bad compared with many other places in the state, a situation that again underscores that we don't need the bypass.

I should have made it clear that I don't support the bypass, but I just can't stand the holier than though approach some people have towards all things political in C'Ville.

Sorry for the misunderstanding!

How about they start with closing off some of the lights and intersections on Rt 29 now? For instance, the light at Fashion Square mall on Rt 29 could be removed and the turn from the south-bound lanes could be closed off. There are a number of other entrances. This could be done in a few other places as well such as near Target.

Its cheap and would allow fewer stops on 29.

It is so obvious that this bypass is a colossal waste of public money which will not serve its stated purpose and primarily benefit only those involved in its construction that we have no choice but to build it.

Traffic is just not that bad. I've been living here for eight years and the biggest problem is football traffic. Take down Scott Stadium!

I am so sick of the pro-bypass crowd meeping and moaning about "what is our alternative." Places29 is down on paper and has been for years and years. It addresses the problems of 29N much more effectively than this joke of a "bypass" and does so at a tiny fraction of the cost. How anyone can say that there are "no other viable options" is completely beyond me. It takes the barest minimum of common sense to see that the traffic problems on 29N are related to LOCAL traffic, NOT through traffic. Yet we're about to blow a half a billion dollars on a bypass that--unless you live in Forest Lakes and work at UVA--does nothing to help local traffic and saves through traffic ~90 seconds (VDOT's figure there folks).

Look, I'll tell you why we're building this monstrosity, and it's got nothing to do with improving traffic conditions on 29N. It's entirely Ken Boyd's paean to the pro-business, anti-intellectual bent of his statewide party. Why do you think they just moved the HALF of his neighborhood that his house is in from Creigh Deed's district to Rob Bell's district? That's his reward for blowing hundreds of millions of our taxpayer money--a cupcake of a ticket to Richmond once Bell goes on to be AG or whatever his grand plans are. This "bypass" is the result of the basest, ugliest form of politicking. And to defend it by saying there are "no other viable options" is beyond intellectually dishonest.

^^What Johnny said. Very well put.


Oh Johnny, you pithy unproven ode to the Place 29 is like listening to a golden oldie. There is no money for it, it's cost figures don't give you equivalent results to the bypass, and not all the problems with traffic here are local. Places 29 is nothing more than a planners plan sponsered by Rooker Inc. I can assure that the localities above and below us disagree with you. This is a STATE road not a local one. There is only one district in Albemarle that doesn't want this road overwhelmingly . What part of democracy scares you so much.

Please show the VDOT figures that quote the new bypass only saves 90 seconds- I'm calling BS on that one. Route 29 is a gauntlet of 16 lights now and only 90 seconds saved is utter nonsense. For example did that figure include the new Stonefield light?

Ken Boyd's last election was basically a referendum on the bypass and he crushed his heavily bankrolled opponent who made that her central theme.The state wants it, Albemarle (except the Jack Jouett district) wants it. Dennis Rooker's days of blocking this road are quickly coming to a close.

LOL. Thanks for proving my point about common sense. Let's see here.....

"There is no money for it" So there's a half billion (VDOT's engineers estimates) for a bypass but there isn't $50m for Places29?

"it's cost figures don't give you equivalent results to the bypass" Huh? Did you base that on anything at all?

"and not all the problems with traffic here are local." You've really swallowed that one hook line and sinker. Know what pro-bypass folks have designated as "local" traffic on 29N for purposes of bypass promotion? Traffic that originates from Emmet St......and that's it.

"I can assure that the localities above and below us disagree with you. This is a STATE road not a local one." Do us a favor, drive down to Lynchburg. Take a look around. That's what a bypass should look like. If the "bypass" rammed through by Boyd and a senile Dorrier looked anything like that--if it ran from 33 to 64 for instance--I'd be first in line to support it. The road in question as currently designed is a joke.

"There is only one district in Albemarle that doesn't want this road overwhelmingly. What part of democracy scares you so much." What part of 25 years of 3-3 votes don't you understand?

"Please show the VDOT figures that quote the new bypass only saves 90 seconds- I'm calling BS on that one. Route 29 is a gauntlet of 16 lights now and only 90 seconds saved is utter nonsense." VDOT's traffic engineers disagree with you. You want to get me on a technicality, I picked the lower number on account of the total cluster-you-know-what the southern terminus has turned into. The VDOT estimate of time saved for through traffic on the bypass is 90-120 seconds. It's part of the public record; look it up yourself.

"Ken Boyd's last election was basically a referendum on the bypass and he crushed his heavily bankrolled opponent who made that her central theme.The state wants it, Albemarle (except the Jack Jouett district) wants it. Dennis Rooker's days of blocking this road are quickly coming to a close." Okay, once again, I've seen an awful lot of 3-3 votes on it and not one 5-1 vote. Secondly, I have no idea what you mean by "the state wants it." You really think Hampton Roads or NoVa couldn't find a better way to spend $500m on road improvements? They're PISSED about this. Or look at it this way, VDOT itself has decided it wasn't worth building this joke of a road every time they studied it--29N gets an "F" right now, and it get's an "F" with this "bypass" built. $500m is a lot to spend to get nothing in return. But like I said, it takes the barest minimum of common sense to realize it.

Johnny, Johnny, Johnny- half a billion?? um that would be a bit of nonsense since the bid from Skanska was 135 million (not the total cost I know).
Parroting what was said by some engineer vs. an actual bid is such a gross misuse of facts that you can't be trusted to give us anything that is not biased. It's now, given the actual bid, patently untrue-

50 million - how long ago was that and if you're including overpasses that would be a nonstarter that has no support politically. Places 29 would not get 5 million from the state let alone 50.

" The road in question as currently designed is a joke." with your use of factual data and the many references and footnotes..oh that's right you didn't do any of that- this is your opinion. The joke is you answer and the utter lack of reasoning to get there.

Democracy is 50% + 1. The bypass passed after a 3-3 vote was changed when VDOT promised the money if Dorrier change his vote . He did and VDOT came across with the money. The vote was 4-3 (or have you forgotten that?) We also got the widening of 29 and several others roads will get built in the bargain-

"look it up"... um no you quoted it, please produce the 90 second claim - otherwise the charge of BS stands more brightly than before because you couldn't find it. I not hunting for your virtual snipe-

The state would be VDOT and other parts of this region. State officials approved this money so my statement stands. Tidewater isn't pissed about us. Compare all the money we have gotten from VDOT over the last 20 years and it's a drop in the bucket to the rest of the state.

You brought nothing to this but bluster, derision, and cherry pick guesstimate that are no longer reality. Take the weekend off, rest up and come back with better than your "F" game.

That's the funny thing about common sense--it's just not all that common.

Echo, the fact remains that this bypass will not solve the problem that proponents claim it will. It is more expensive than other solutions that have been demonstrated to be effective. It fails a cost-benefit analysis. It was greenlighted in a corrupt process. Why do you think it's such a great idea again? You should listen to the engineers, not the Skanska salespeople.

Johnny - "I am so sick of the pro-bypass crowd meeping and moaning about "what is our alternative." Places29 is down on paper and has been for years and years. It addresses the problems of 29N much more effectively than this joke of a "bypass" and does so at a tiny fraction of the cost. How anyone can say that there are "no other viable options" is completely beyond me."

I just did quick online research, the western bypass "has a current total cost estimate of $244.6 million. Skanska-Branch’s construction contract is $136 million, and some of the project’s right-of-way must still be purchased.* (C'ville Tomorrow 5/23/13). Places 29 has a total cost (2007 dollars) of $439,890,000 (US 29 North Corridor Transportation Study - Technical Memorandum 11 prepared for TJPDC).

Albemarle County's cash proffer in 2007 was $17,500. In 2012 it was $19,753.68, a 12.9% increase. Using the same inflation rate, Places 29 is estimated to cost, in 2012 dollars, $496,539,788. So the small fraction (Places 29 to the western bypass) is 203%?

Does Places 29 improve travel times better than the western bypass? Yes. Is it more expensive? Yes. Will it disrupt the heart of the County's business area? Yes.

Johnny in your case common sense seems to be nonexistent- no defense of your web of BS? Take a breather man- you can't even raise a finger to defend you $500 million nonsense or your 90 second snipe. Like most who don't want this build you tire when your "facts" are questioned and resort to petty attacks and juvenile retorts.

Dawg, Skanska did not sell us this project. This world class construction company laid down a bid for this project and if you don't know about them take a minute to research their very impressive body of work.I say the bypass does exactly what it designed to do- bypass the 16 traffic lights and all the local traffic that entails. Did you think it was designed to do something else?

Help me with the math , thanks I didn't know that Johnny's 1/2 a billion dollar project was places 29- what a maroon!

This is the same Johnny that is "personally amused" by the sexual abuse that Chris Dumler's victim went through. And this is why? Because he believes the half-baked propaganda that Ken Boyd is some evil, mad genius?

He obviously missed that Rob Bell lost the AG nomination, so the devious Key West redistricting all of a sudden seems like the minor line moving that it actually is. He overstates the cost of this road to $500 million dollars for no reason other than it makes his argument look good.

What more needs to be said about this man, "Johnny". He is literally, by his own words, "amused" by the fact that Chris Dumler sexually abused a woman. I find that disgusting and I don't care how much evil he wishes to ascribe to Ken Boyd over this not entirely transportation infrastructure project.

Being amused by men sexually abusing women is worse than building a road. Johnny is far, far worse than Ken Boyd, no matter what he chooses to believe.

Sea change coming after the fall election.

Downtown Brown takes me to task for my lack of empathy for corporate owners of fry-pits on 29N.....
Well let me say that I don't necessarily mean the changes I suggest would actually cause loss of businesses, but that the risk exists in any major changes and maintaining the status quo on that road to avoid that risk would be silly. Should I-40 not have been built so depression era motorcourts and diners on old Rt. 66 would be saved?
Anyway, the realignment of 29N via interchanges and frontage roads would probably ultimately enhance the commercial life of that corridor despite any transient inconveniences cause by construction.

Add one more reason we need the western bypass. We must have its right of way to build the big pipeline to link the new Ragged Mountain reservoir with the obsolete Rivanna Reservoir.

Without that right of way, we can't build the pipeline and we will have wasted $200 million on a water system that can't work.

That's supposedly a big behind the scenes reason the bypass finally got over the hump and a late night vote was called. Talk to The Nature Conservancy about it.

I live in the Pantops area and we are very fortunate to have two Rt 29 Bypasses in place. The northbound one is Stoney Point/Profitt Rd, and the southbound one is I64, Exit 124 to Exit 118.

Seriously, I don't find traffic on 29 between the 250 Bypass and the Rivanna River to be much of a big deal, not after making a daily 12 mile, 60 minute commute to work in NoVa.

Ha Ha the 200 million for the dam is already an unnecessary waste. So now we have even more compelling pork logic at work: because this colossal waste of money is tied to an already spent colossal waste of money, we have no choice but to build it.

And now a message from our sponsored: "Nice working with you. Thank goodness your knee jerk political blinders allow you to keep voting for us based on "distraction issues" so we can continue to have access to the public checkbook and remain lords of the pork barrel. Please continue to enjoy waving your red and blue flags!"