The Board of Supervisors voted to end its block on funding of the Western Bypass late Wednesday night, Sean Tubbs writes for Charlottesville Tomorrow, require a suspension of the rules to avoid informing the public about the vote in advance. Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton called Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier—the swing vote—and told him that the state would provide all necessary funding for the bypass bypass, liable to cost somewhere near a quarter of a billion dollars. Connaughton emphasizes that the funding is promised only for the very alignment that is currently proposed, and not any variants. (Note that no funding has actually been allocated to the project, and the state’s road network is disastrously underfunded, but $3B in transportation bonds could be used to pay for this on credit.) The vote was 4-2, with Dennis Rooker and Ann Mallek dissenting.
By way of reminder, this proposed 29 bypass will bypass our existing 29 bypass, functioning as a bypass bypass. We built the existing bypass to route around the built-up area of 29, but didn’t put any sort of a moratorium on development along the 29 corridor. Decades later, the bypass is now a handy way to get around town, but it doesn’t really bypass anything anymore. The proposed bypass bypass would start just north of Walmart, running next to the reservoir, paralleling Hydraulic and Georgetown, and connect to the bypass between the Barracks Road and Ivy exits. Of course, this was all designed prior to any of the development north of Walmart, such as Forest Lakes, Hollymead Town Center, the expansion of Ruckersville, etc. There’s also the matter of the 2005 study that found that the bypass bypass would have virtually no impact on reducing traffic on 29, since nearly all of the traffic on 29 originates or ends within the area that would be bypassed, and would save only about a minute of travel time for traffic using the bypass. A decade ago, some national group did the the math and figured out that, mile for mile, the six-mile bypass would be the nation’s most expensive road.
What we’re really seeing here is Charlottesville becoming a part of a statewide transportation debate, with us cast as the bad guys, and Lynchburg and Southside cast as the long-suffering victims. Lynchburg’s newspaper editorializes periodically about how their economy would be humming along brilliantly, if only Charlottesville wasn’t in the way of people driving there. There’s an old story—probably an urban legend—about how Route 64 wound up running through Charlottesville, rather than Lynchburg, and it involves Lynchburg’s winding up getting the short end of the political stick over a more powerful Charlottesville senator, and something about JFK. The matter of the Western Bypass, then, is seen as a continuation of the unjust treatment of Lynchburg at the hands of Charlottesville. Unsurprisingly, Lynchburg Senator Steve Newman is taking some credit for the BoS’s action, saying that he talked to Connaughton in February and walked away sure that Connaughton was going to get this road built.
As a practical matter, we have to pick: we can either have a bypass bypass or we can continue to develop 29 north (and south) of the two termini of the new road. But we can’t do both, or else the sixty seconds being saved by this bypass will quickly be rounded down to zero seconds.