By. Neil Williamson, President
This editorial first appeared in The Daily Progress on Sunday October 2, 2011.
The Free Enterprise Forum and other organizations and citizens support construction of the US29 Western Bypass because it will alleviate congestion by taking thousands of vehicles off our community’s main commercial boulevard while increasing safety exponentially.
Beyond the safety and improvement of freight, the Western Bypass will pave the way (pun intended) for the creation of the new ‘Business 29’.
Please let me explain.
Our stretch of US29 is the most dangerous portion of the entire US29 Corridor. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reported that 49% of all motor vehicle accidents – 41% of all personal injury accidents – within the Commonwealth of Virginia along US 29 occur in Charlottesville or Albemarle. The current roadway is increasingly unsafe and the US29 Western Bypass will increase safety on our main street dramatically.
Current VDOT data estimates that an average of 57,000 motor vehicles cross US29 at Hydraulic Road every day. VDOT has further estimated between 10%-20% of those vehicles are “thru-traffic” with no intention of stopping in our community. Using the median range (15%) means that more than 8,000 vehicles, many heavy trucks, would be removed. In addition each day as many as 10,000 or more vehicles within our region would bypass ‘Business 29’.
Health Benefits – The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not convinced of the linkages between health risks and roadway locations. They have prepared detailed analysis regarding Mobile Source Air Toxic (MSAT) emissions indicating significant concerns with the data collection methods and the results of the studies recently quoted by ‘Business 29’ opponents.
In fact, the FHWA believes, “There is also the lack of a national consensus on an acceptable level of risk”. Further, the FHWA using the EPA MOBILE6.2 Model projects advancements in regulations for vehicle engines and fuels will cause overall emissions to decline by 72% by 2050 while Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) actually increases 145%
Based on our analysis, we believe ‘Business 29’ will actually improve air quality by keeping the through traffic moving at 55 mph rather than creeping through fourteen (soon to be fifteen) stoplights.
Freight Impact VDOT’s freight study earlier this year identified the US 29 Bypass as a “High Impact” roadway. Considering the fourteen traffic lights removed from the trip through Charlottesville, one can imagine not only the time and fuel savings but the environmental benefits of removing the tractor trailers stacking up from Best Buy all the way to Northrop Grumman.
‘Business 29’, unlike the five interchange expressway originally envisioned in Places29, will not be a shared superhighway ineffectively serving both local and through trips. Instead, this new road may allow some of the existing asphalt to be used for alternative purposes such as bike and transit lanes.
In addition without the demands of through traffic, the speed on the roadway could be reduced to make it much more of an urban boulevard rather than an expressway.
Albemarle’s Economic Engine A 2007 study conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum for the North Charlottesville Business Council tracked the economic impact of the North 29 area (called Workplace29). The Workplace 29 report found that the North US 29 corridor:
· contributes over 45% of Albemarle County’s local tax revenue from less than 2% of the land area.
· supports approximately 20,000 jobs and provides over $800 million dollars in annual salaries to these workers.
· Non residential properties in Workplace 29 comprise .4% of Albemarle County’s land area and generate 60% of the non-residential taxes levied.
‘Business 29’ will revitalize the US29 North corridor. The Places29 vision includes outdoor cafés and wide urban sidewalks for window shopping. Such enhancements can only be achieved with a slower paced main street rather than an expressway, with its five interchanges bisecting the community. Instead of eliminating existing businesses (and jobs) with enterprise consuming interchanges, ‘Business 29’ will allow existing businesses to expand and others to open.
Further, a local main street will make infill development significantly more attractive in the core of the development area rather than sprawling out into the edges. There is no way to achieve what Places29 envisions without removing some of the traffic from the corridor; it cannot function as both our “Main Street” and as our only north-south corridor.
This route was always a part of the plan. After studying approximately 27 possible road locations in the City and County, it was determined that the one with the least impacts, most direct path, and least cost was Alternative 10, (“Rt. 29 Western By-pass”).
Even though some of the areas on US29 North have been rezoned and/or developed since the study was originally prepared, these areas have been designated for high density growth since at least the 1984 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Plan. This designation was factored in when the original route was developed.
Significantly, the route of the bypass has been on the Comprehensive Plan Land Use maps for many, many years. The most recent map, which was effective up until Places 29 was approved, is entitled “2015 Land Use Map” and is marked “Adopted June 1996, Amended May 2010.” So all land use decisions since at least 1984 were made with the expectation that this road follow this route and as recently as May 2010 Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan map envisioned this road in this location for its long range planning purposes.
Cost Factors. Recent reports have the cost estimates for the Western Bypass varying dramatically. The only way to determine the actual cost to build the roadway is to send the project out to bid, as was done this week. The Free Enterprise Forum sees no benefit to arguing about an internal VDOT project estimate when an actionable bid will be made available in the very near term.
All of the above raises the question, had this project been completed when first proposed how many millions of dollars may have been saved?
Should the taxpayers pursue legal action to recoup the increased opportunity costs?
It’s About Time. This is the time for ‘Business 29’ and the US29 Western Bypass to come to fruition. These roads will answer important transportation and economic vitality needs both for this community and the Old Dominion as a whole.
Each year the Federal Government and Virginia collect more than $40 million in motor vehicle taxes in Charlottesville and Albemarle. The last major public road project completed locally is the widening of US29 (mid 1990s). It has been estimated that as a community we have paid $600 million in motor vehicle taxes in the sixteen years since VDOT constructed any new road project here. It’s time our community got some of its infrastructure investment back.
Twenty years from now, citizens will look back on this discussion and not talk about the meritorious Western Bypass but instead wonder, as with the Route 250 Bypass, “How would our community survive without the vitality of ‘Business 29’?”
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Albemarle County, VDOT