By. Neil Williamson, President
In July 2011, after the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted 3-2 to move forward with the Western Bypass, I wrote a post that quoted Sir Winston Churchill that this was not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning. The results of today’s (3/19) Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) meeting provide a fitting bookend as it now looks like the beginning of the end of the Western Bypass.
The audience in the Richmond auditorium featured many familiar faces from Albemarle and Charlottesville including four members of the Board of Supervisors as well as Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley. [Considering it was a transportation meeting, I wonder if we should have done a better job car pooling-NW]
Last month, Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne selected former VDOT Commissioner Phillip Schucet to facilitate a short term Advisory Panel to evaluate what to do about the congestion issues on US29. The very specific charge for the advisory panel requires the process to be transparent and to work with in the economic constraints of the $200 Million dollars the CTB already allocated to the Western Bypass. In addition, any solution, or package of solutions, must be able to be constructed (or significant progress accomplished) in the three and a half years left in the current administration. Layne was also clear in the charge that doing nothing was not an option. The results of the group’s work are scheduled to be presented at the May 14th meeting of the CTB.
One CTB member, Mark Peake of Lynchburg asked the question directly, “Would this group consider any bypass solutions?”. Schucet answered the question directly “No”.
Another CTB member, William Fralin of Salem asked the Secretary if the bypass was abandoned and the land sold back would those funds be available to the US29 Corridor in addition to the $200 Million? Layne was appropriately deferential indicating that decision could not be made until the recommendation came forward and any funds to be reprogrammed would be a decision for the CTB.
The advisory panel composition was a concern for CTB member Alison DeTuncq of Charlottesville who questioned why Greene County, Culpeper County and other localities were not included in the panel. [The Free Enterprise Forum did find the inclusion of the Southern Environmental Law Center interesting] Schucet indicated that there were a number of conversations regarding the number of people to be on the panel. At one point it was five at another twenty. He believed the size was now appropriate. Layne indicated these were the localities that had been most engaged in the conversations thus far.
So the question remains. ‘Is this the end of the road?’
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) February 18th letter indicated the twenty years of delay brought the original scope and purpose of the road into question. The charge to the advisory panel has eliminated the consideration of any bypass at this time.
My friend, and longtime bypass opponent, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council was quoted on Twitter this week saying that he would believe the Western Bypass is dead when the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) sells back the right of way. I tend to agree this will be an instructive and rather objective metric.
Considering the Advisory Panel’s prescriptive charge and the tenor of the CTB’s discussion this afternoon in Richmond, if this is not the end of the road, it is in sight.
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 Credit: VDOT