Doing the Math on the Western Bypass

Aaron Richardson has a long article about the revival of the Western Bypass in the Progress, but the bit that interests me is this alarming pair of facts:

“The public money for [Hillsdale Drive] is less than $10 million and it will take 12,000 vehicles a day off 29,” Rooker said. “The cost of the bypass is around $250 million, and will take 15,000 vehicles off 29.”

James Rich, who represents Charlottesville on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, agrees.

“After $300 million of expenditures, Route 29 will still be at an F level of service,” he said. “You’re spending a ton of money, degrading the quality of life in an important area of the community, and what help is it?”

To provide a more direct comparison of the benefit per dollar of the the two modifications to 29N contrasted by Dennis Rooker, consider the difference in the cost expressed in cars per year of each approach. Expressed in terms of cars per year, Hillsdale Drive will cost $2.28 per car taken off 29. (10,000,000 / (12,000 x 365)) In the same terms, the Western Bypass will cost $45.66 per car taken off 29. (250,000,000 / (15,000 x 365)) Put even more simply, the Western Bypass will cost 2,000% as much per vehicle taken off 29N. Again, for an “F” level of service.

How much would it cost to run light rail clear down 29N to downtown? Or commuter blimp service? Jet packs for everybody? Any of those would be cheaper, and probably just as effective, as this goofy bypass of our existing bypass.

32 thoughts on “Doing the Math on the Western Bypass”

  1. The Lynchburg to DC rail service takes about 9,000 cars a month off of US 29 for a cost of … wait a minute, the service turns a profit.

    Really the ultimate metric of a transportation system is getting people from where they are to where they want to go. Roadway capacity and roadway Level of Service should be subordinate goals to this purpose. If the Bypass can’t even pass the old highwayman’s formulas, that’s really saying something.

  2. Wow. That math says an awful lot. The DP article has some pretty interesting quotes. I have a few thoughts looking at things both ways:
    1) “Just imagine for a minute that you’re driving from Pantops to Barracks Road without the 250 Bypass. What would we do without that bypass?” Snow asked. “I feel like we need the 29 bypass as much as we needed that road.” Hmm. Maybe that’s why he’s a politician and not an engineer. Mr. Snow needs to look at a map for a second. 250 By-Pass handles entirely local traffic and is surrounded by suburbs. Next to zero vehicles on US 250 are east-west through traffic (we have I-64 for that) A very-limited access 29 By-Pass will only really benefit locals who need to get from one extreme end of the area to the other; it will, however, benefit non-local state and inter-state traffic IF DESIGNED CORRECTLY.
    2) “Really, the ultimate metric of a transportation system is getting people from where they are to where they want to go.” Right on. So: let’s think about Hillsdale Drive vs. a new US 29 By-Pass now. Hillsdale drive will be removing almost exclusively local traffic from US 29. A By-Pass, on the other hand, should be removing almost exclusively THROUGH traffic…
    3) …which leads to my next point. As pointed out in the DP article, it’s unclear where the funding will be coming from for this By-Pass yet. In my opinion, there should be next to no funding coming from the City or the County directly. Aside from what is projected to be a hardly-noticeable removal of vehicles from congested US 29, this project does not benefit the County (many would argue that it hurts the County). However, a By-Pass (DONE CORRECTLY) will benefit the state as a whole, as US 29 is a major north-south corridor. A By-Pass will benefit Lynchburg, Danville, Greensboro, NOVA, etc…but essentially at the expense of the County. Funding should thus entirely come from the state/federal level.
    4) And of course, there’s the issue of the current By-Pass design, which is completely outdated and thus will not provide optimum (or anywhere near optimum) benefit to the state as a whole. The By-Pass essentially needs to be a repeat of the Lynchburg By-Pass, which starts far north of the city.
    5) As it stands right now, the proposed 29 By-Pass design is not beneficial to the local community (most would agree with that) and also not very beneficial to the larger state or inter-state community! This is ultimately why this project needs to go back to the drawing board. I would be much more willing to support a By-Pass that can serve its purpose – alleviating congestion for THROUGH traffic.

  3. The numbers shown are staggering. I think if most people realized how much private transportation cost them they would be more in favor of public transport options.

  4. We have to construct roads so that the County’s ever increasing population can move around without having to clog up the city streets. It is crazy that all traffic must be funneled through Charlottesville.

  5. The traffic counts that Dennis Rooker mentions seem distorted to me but honestly don’t know if their wrong. I would love to see their original source before a decision is made. I have heard folks opposed to the Western Bypass use older numbers and compare them to newer numbers without proper disclosure IMHO. That said, this entire situation seems quite fluid now and would love to see the facts from VDOT as to current estimated traffic counts. This project is over 20 years old and all sorts of numbers are out there. I would just like them to be as objective as possible.

    Perhaps the city could use the over 1 million dollars it doesn’t have to pay now on the Best Buy ramp (taken over by VDOT) and apply that money to Hillsdale.

  6. First of all, I wouldn’t trust anything regarding the Bypass from Supv Rooker – he has been and is adamantly opposed to it,as was his predecessor Supv Humphris, both of whom reside in the district the proposed route passes through (NIMBY). He will kill it if at all possible – For all the wailing about longer/better route/ light rail. etc., the reality is that if this does not get built now, starting from scratch will ensure nothing will get done in our lifetimes to bypass the Great Strip Mall that rt 29 North has become. The state is willing to pony up the money. This is to allow people from the rest of the Commonwealth to go AROUND Charlottesville and as much of the Strip Mall as possible. As for the “F” Level of service on 29 – complain about that to the people who threw out enormous sums of money to widen that strip rather than bypass it. You built it, you live with it – the rest of the state wants a bypass!

  7. And there can’t be a blimp service either:

    1. There is the coming helium shortage:

    2. Hydrogen isn’t a good alternative- see Hindenburg

    3. Jet packs would be a no good since the western bypass is in the flight path and the FAA is particularly ill tempered these days. I like the idea but cringe at the thought of average people with such devices- death from above indeed

    4. Light rail: please see Norfolk’s – The $338 million system is estimated to cost $6.2 million a year to operate.
    It makes the bypass look cheap

    You forgot elevated bike paths, interchanges, a subway and a grand canal down 29.

    The Grand Canal is the best- we could solve transportation and water supply problem at the same time. No need for the new dam! We could have Venice become our new sister city and make the combination bateau and gondola the new hipster mode of transport.

  8. There is little local advantage to the Western ByPass that couldn’t be gained by Hillsdale and other improvements to 29, but this isn’t about local traffic, this is driven by other parts of the state, and it’s the road the state wants to fund. Local officials are being convinced to approve this road because they are being promised money for other roads. We’ll see if that materializes.

    But remember the $200 million is not money that would have gone to local projects, it is state money being spent on a state solution to bypass part of 29. Even if you take local traffic off 29 with Hillsdale you haven’t solved the problem of nonlocal drivers having to encounter all the 29 stoplights. This would be a faster way to get to 64 for these travelers even if it’s not perfect.

    I didn’t say it was cost effective, but it is not going to draw money away from local projects, if one is to believe the Secretary of Transportation.

    You can’t always get what you want – and the state wants to fund this road and no other.

  9. @perlogik

    About light rail: if I remember semi-correctly, the working committee for a potential Charlotesville project (along Main Street/University Ave) had an operating need for 1.1M.

    And that was equivalent to the taxpayer-paid shortfall for the bus system’s operations.

    (Someone will find a good link.)

  10. First, while the Secretary of Transportation has personally assured us that the Western Bypass will not suck the region’s transportation funding dry for years to come, he does not hold the purse strings. We live in a representative democracy, and it is reasonable for the city and county to want to know exactly how the CTB intends to build the road – and get it in writing – before deciding on anything. I know that some are falling over themselves to ‘git er done,’ but at least checking the price tag would seem to be a good idea for now.

    Second, to those who believe that the Western Bypass will simply benefit statewide through-traffic and have little impact on residents of Albemarle County (beyond the neighborhoods removed), I would ask you to consider the land use impacts more generally. Every adjustment to the transportation system opens up development opportunities in some places, and makes development relatively less desirable in other places.

    That’s how it works everywhere. Roadways create their own demand, and residents of the region should be able to decide whether the altered shape of their community is desirable to them or not. Do we even have a clear understanding of how development is likely to respond?

    Perlogik, the proper comparison to the bypass is not light rail but heavy rail. Rail improvements are incredibly cheap, use existing ROW, lead to net environmental improvements, and encourage infill development and alternative modes of transportation.

  11. We live in a representative democracy, and it is reasonable for the city and county to want to know exactly how the CTB intends to build the road – and get it in writing – before deciding on anything

    Sadly, some members of our BOS think otherwise.

  12. Well, well, well. The state has given us 20 years to ‘fix the problem’. We’ve spent literally millions of dollars and fixed……nothing.
    Why are we surprised that the state is about to take this decision out of our hands?

  13. Rick, Places 29 is the locally-vetted solution. It’s not Albemarle-Charlottesville’s fault that VDOT is choosing to fund the Western Bypass instead of the components of this plan.

  14. In Cville,
    It seems to me that the voters who elected the 4(!)BOSupervisors who have enabled this takeover do bear some responsibility.
    Full disclosure: I am a NIMBY, (I will be able to hear traffic on the bypass of the bypass if it is built) on this issue and Mr. Rooker is my district’s supervisor.
    I am also a member of the wider community and am concerned about the many future students who will have this road near their schools, the real risks to the water supply, and the needed projects which will not be funded. And as a state and federal taxpayer, I am appalled by the extreme waste of tax monies.

  15. When I moved here 20 years ago this bypass idea had traction. I was too new to the area and had no real opinion. What’s odd is now that it comes back up, I don’t see much change. The road plan seems the same, not accounting for 20 years of growth. The cost increases. The bickering remains. The point of directing traffic around local 29 is lost in the noise. And my opinion for or against a bypass could still go either way.

    I grew up in Hyattsville, MD when they put the Metro through our neighborhood. My Dad saved hundreds of homes by helping create an alternate route. At that point in time, when he could change the outcome, he did.

    If Richmond thinks it’s for the greater good (or politically advantageous) to build a bypass they will, our blog posts and concerns be damned. The chance for local input appears to slipping away, and instead the issue will be decided by others.

  16. @ Gail are you concerned that the officially supported water plan calls for abandoning the SFRReservoir that you live near for water supply and building a new reservoir that runs under I64 at Ragged Mountain Natural Area. Mr. Rooker supports abandoning the SFRR for our water use, so why should we care if a road goes ” near ” that planned for marshland. ( the water plan has no money budgeted to dredge the SFRR)

    I’ll take you, Mr. Rooker, and others in your district seriously when I hear you support dredging the SFRR for our water supply and then maybe you can use SFRRerservoir as a reason not to build the Western ByPass.

  17. perlogik, another advantage to your grand canal idea is on occaisions when it does get cold enough, we can skate on it.

  18. A Grand Canal, I like it. I’m envisioning a tradition of driving an old truck out onto the canal every winter, and then holding a charity auction with bets are placed on the exact day the car will break through the ice and sink below the surface. Maybe VDOT would even go for it, if they could be convinced that cars would still somehow be involved.

  19. CHO airport has dedicated funds they don;t even know how to spend. They are flush. We want a monorail to the Corner.

  20. I just heard that Sean Connaughton is the guest on Virginia Insight this afternoon, Thursday, June 30 at 3pm on WMRA (

    The web page says:
    …”And — should you have any questions or comments about anything to do with getting around in the commonwealth — he’s agreed to address all listener call-ins too.”

    So for anyone who is so inclined, this sounds like a chance to get some answers. Or at least throw the questions out there.

  21. ***James Rich, who represents Charlottesville on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, agrees.

    “After $300 million of expenditures, Route 29 will still be at an F level of service,” he said. “You’re spending a ton of money, degrading the quality of life in an important area of the community, and what help is it?”***

    FIRST of all – James Rich is the representative for the CULPEPER DISTRICT – of which Albemarle is only 1 of 9 counties – he should be listening to the rest of his constituency – It will be a GREAT HELP to those of us who wish to avoid the Rt 29 mess – how can the Bypass “degrade the quality of life” when it will take cars and trucks OFF the road through The Great Strip Mall? One should ask – How did it get to be “F” Level of service after all the $$$ spent on widening?

  22. Charlottesville’s $3 million Road To Nowhere.

    Say NO to the prehistoric Socialist single source transportation boondoggle

  23. Uber-expensive plan that will run a freeway through the center of the region, dividing neighborhoods, degrading property values, and as well documented, to poor effect for the cost. Further, a significant fraction of our children will spend 12 years of their developing lives bracketed between Rio Rd and this new freeway, and play ball in the din of traffic. Is this why you moved here? This is not the future we would choose for ourselves and our children, I think.

    THIS “bypass” is a stupid outdated plan, and if it is built, we will never, never, ever get the funds from the state for a proper bypass AROUND the city instead of THROUGH the city. THIS bypass serves the interests of shipping companies that want a road, any road, good or bad, and they want it yesterday. They do not care about you, your neighborhood, or your city. If we settle for such a crummy solution, crummy will be our fate.

    Board of supervisors meetings at Lane Auditorium, 401 McIntire Rd:

    July 6 9AM
    July 13 6 PM

    Your presence will be more influential there than on this blog.

  24. It is foolish to believe that if the western bypass isn’t build that any another better bypass will ever be built. How much will that other bypass cost? (hint- it will be much more) When do they start buying the land for that?

    Living in the real world and tells me it’s this road or nothing for the next 20 years (or forever). It’s never going to be cheaper to build than right now, we probably never have the politicians that would allow a road to be built and the state with a fistful of dollars ready to spend- all of them at the same time.

    We are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is a good road to take local traffic of 29 avoid 10-15 lights and dumping that traffic on grounds or the bypass. Would it better if it took the traffic farther up 29 north- yes. Has anyone with any real clout offered us this other “perfect buapss” anywhere? -nope.

    This road will be a godsend to many in this area and will take UVA ond many others traffic off of 29. Anyone who says otherwise would have to prove that the Western Bypass as proposed wouldn’t be used for that last statement not to be true.

    Will people have to move when the road is built- of course. However they have had 20 years to get ready.

    It all boils down to this- either the state will build this road RIGHT NOW or we will probably never get any road or the widening of 29 near Forest Lake most adults lifetime. How can anyone who has watched the history of us not building roads in Albemarle believe anything else?

  25. “Will people have to move when the road is built- of course. However they have had 20 years to get ready.”

    Well, people near this road will be coerced to pay a fearsome price for your benefit. If VDOT takes your property, you will be compensated and you can protest to a jury if you think the compensation is inadequate. Of course, VDOT is famous for makeing grossly inadequate offers. However, if VDOT does not take your property, but you find yourself 100 feet from a freeway, VDOT gives zip nada nothing for the loss of your property value—-which will be very substantial. These people are simply screwed by their fellow citizens through VDOT. If the people want the benefits of a road, they should pay for it and pay the full cost. The public should not take the benefit of a road while sticking the cost on an unhappy few. If you were singled out to be taxed $100,000 because you wanted the road, you would scream bloody murder. But if you advocate “taxing” the neighbors of this road and then insult them for being upset about it and protesting, that is tyrannical.

    All that aside, this is a pointless, expensive and wasteful road.

  26. It’s expensive? (compared to what?) The Wilson bridge in DC cost over a billion dollars. Any road is expensive- how does it relate to roads it’s length and complexity? These cost figure include widening of 29 and the money already spent in land purchased. How much do you think it would cost if VDOT hadn’t bought any land before now? How much more would a longer bypass cost since none of that land is purchased? 2 to 3 times more? Considering what VDOT has already spent and other projects that get done that this is actually a bargain.

    Pointless? – not if I live in Greene County and work on grounds. Not if you’re heading to DC from the Fontaine research park. not if you want to avoid many traffic lights. The road will get a great deal of use.

    Wasteful? (see expensive)

    The maddest people I know about the bypass are a couple who is going to finally lose their home after 20 years of renting it from VDOT. They seem maddest at those who told them VDOT would never build this road. Seems some folks had already gotten out their checkbooks to buy back their house and now they might actually have to move.

    I feel for them but a least they got the 20 years that was never promised to them.

  27. I’ll take Charlottesville’s “traffic” (we have a rush of about 20 minutes vs. the 90 minutes of “rush hour” people have in DC and Hampton Roads) over destroying a massive stretch of land and putting cars in the backyards of scores of people (and schools) any day.

    Don’t forget about the meeting folks! Wednesday, 7/13 at 6 PM.

  28. I’m with Jeannine. I’d rather have everyone leave a little earlier to get to their appointments on time than spend all that money and wreck all that land.

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