Democrats’ sweep of local and statewide elections have them talking about undoing the Western Bypass, Courteney Stuart reports for C-Ville Weekly. A conservative majority on the Board of Supervisors, spurred on by a Republican administration in the governor’s office, held a surprise midnight vote to approve the Western Bypass in 2011. Supervisor Dennis Rooker thinks that there’s both the political will and the mechanisms to halt the plans, with incoming governor Terry McAuliffe appointing a new Secretary of Transportation and the BOS naming two members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization to replace the recently defeated Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow.
There was a public review of the options for the southern terminus of the bypass bypass on Thursday, Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow, as VDOT tries to deal with the shortcomings of the winning bid. Skanska/Branch Highways got the contract with an amazingly low $135M design/build proposal (all of the other bids were higher), but VDOT found that the use of traffic lights on the termini would add nearly two minutes to the average trip. (That was just one corner that was cut by Skanska/Branch to low-ball their bid.) Now there are two new options, a loop ramp (7 MB PDF) and a fly-over ramp (7 MB PDF), to address that shortcoming. Nobody’s saying how much these proposals will add to Skanska’s billing, but it’s surely in the tens of millions.
This whole process is likely to be repeated with the northern terminus, too, as it suffers from the same design deficiency. As Jim Bacon writes on his blog, an internal VDOT technical memo shows that they’re concerned about traffic patterns at the northern end, finding that people will have to weave across many lanes of traffic in order to go either north or south when exiting the bypass. The memo concludes “that the entire intersection would have to be reconfigured in some fashion for this weave to be successful, possibly including an elevated section through the intersection.”
This $135M project is liable to balloon to $200–250M before this road is completed. Given that VDOT only has a $139M budget for the entire project, I have to wonder what the threshold is for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to pull the plug on this. After the lone opponent of the Western Bypass was kicked off the CTB in January, it may be a while until any other board members are willing to speak up.
Jocelyn Dale shares this photo of a new hydrant that the city just installed on Forest Hills Ave, just off Cherry.
As Jocelyn asks, why make the sidewalk impassable to anybody in a wheelchair, walker, or pushing a stroller? I hope the city fixes this bone-headed mistake as soon as possible.
A chunk of Rugby Road was shut down for an hour last night, WINA and The Daily Progress report, and nobody’s saying why. From 9:30–10:30, the stretch between Rosser and Preston was closed by state police, who stuck around for hours afterwards. The spokeswoman for the state agency would say only that it was part of a law enforcement investigation spanning agencies. Yet the Charlottesville Police said they have no awareness of the operation, and the the folks at the State Police division headquarters in Appomattox also said that they had nothing to do with it.
8 PM Update: As I wrote the above, the scene was repeating itself, with The Department of Homeland Security and the State Police arresting three people for printing fake IDs. Apparently last night was about executing a search warrant. Today they rolled up in an enormous armored vehicle, arresting two guys at the house, and grabbing another at Harris Teeter a short time later, after he tried to escape. It seems like a hell of a show of force for some guys printing fake IDs, so perhaps this was more than a few guys selling lousy knock-off licenses to college students to buy beer. They’ve been charged with mail fraud, fraud related activity in connection with IDs, and criminal complaint wire fraud.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization wants to re-study the possibility of an “eastern connector,” Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. As the planned western bypass will route traffic around the city to the west, the idea is to have a corresponding road routing traffic around the city to the east. Of course, the bypass already does both of these things, so this would be another bypass bypass. The idea is basically to connect these two points:
If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve already gone through this. At a 2007 public hearing, the public overwhelmingly opposed it. Then, in 2008, $500,000 in studies found that every possible road alignment was either ineffective or impossible. So later that year, both the BOS and City Council shelved the matter, and in 2011 the BOS finally eliminated it from their plans entirely. Without carving an entirely new road through a densely settled, suburban portion of the county, studies found that the only remaining options wouldn’t actually save anybody any time. Starting it farther north would be plowing through Forest Lakes, ending it farther east would go through Keswick estates.
So what’s changed? Well, nothing, except that there’s a $250,000 federal grant that the MPO figures they could get to study the ecological impact of an impossible or ineffective new road. Supervisors Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow say that they’d want the road to bypass Pantops entirely, since that’s become such a tangle, but doing that would involve going either over or through the Southwest Mountains, a feat on the scale of Claudius Crozet’s famous tunnel through the Blue Ridge, with the added twist of having to then run the road straight through some of the most valuable estates in Virginia. More than a century ago, there was a road crossing the Southwest Mountains at Hammocks Gap, as a part of the route to the Rivanna River from Milton but that was abandoned in favor of less arduously steep routes to the north (now Route 33 in Orange) and to the south (now 250 over Pantops).
And the cycle begins again.