Reader Question – Why No Western Bypass?

I’ve lived here two years, and I have yet to get a straight answer from anyone I ask on why the Western bypass has not been built. I understand there was an Eastern bypass discussed as well and that it died first. To see the long, long lines of traffic, particularly trucks, snaking up 29N waiting to get onto 250W, it puzzles the heck out of me why the bypass hasn’t become a reality. The air pollution and the noise alone should be reason enough to get it done.

After reading your blog today, a lightbulb went on. I’ll bet you will be the one to fill me in on this issue(?)

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As I said in my email response, there’s no easy answer other than “because.” Politics, lack of political will, lack of money (even though VDOT already owns the land) …. pushback from locals because they are being pressured by the rest of the state and nobody tells us what to do! are among some of the “answers.” As with all transportation projects in the region not done by UVA (that is, under budget and ahead of schedule) there is a long and varied history.

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A roundup –

C-Ville

The Western Bypass, a road that would run from Route 29 just south of Hollymead to UVA’s North Grounds connector, has long been a dream of those who want a way to cut around the stoplights and traffic crunch that is 29N. Its advocates are a coalition of 29N businesses and truckdrivers from Southside. Local 29N businesses want to unclog what they see as the Main Street of Albemarle County, so that shoppers won’t be reluctant to visit their stores. Folks from Southside don’t want to get stuck in traffic on their way to D.C. They bypass came close enough to a reality that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) bought 250 acres of right-of-way. But a lawsuit ensued, and local government support completely eroded. For years, the project has languished with no funding.

Daily Progress

The No. 1 transportation priority of the business communities in Danville and Lynchburg is a 5.5-mile bypass around Charlottesville’s heavily traveled stretch of U.S. 29.

“We’re waiting patiently for your community to become a part of the solution,” said Rex Hammond, president and CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Laurie S. Moran, president of the Danville/Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, agreed. The traffic congestion on U.S. 29 in Albemarle County is hindering economic growth in her community, she said.

“For us, 29 is critical,” she said. “For our businesses, it really is the lifeblood for keeping the northern markets open.”

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Transportation Matrix

Cvillenews – (lots of great discussions here)

VDOT Favors the Western Bypass (according to the PEC – pdf)

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12 Comments

  1. Spokes September 18, 2008 at 10:47

    The real reason for no Western Bypass? Supervisor Dennis Rooker owns property in the projected right-of-way. He probably doesn’t want us to know, but that is the end of the story.

    Reply
  2. Mark September 18, 2008 at 19:24

    I live in Fry’s Spring, and I HATE going up 29, even on the G-town Road/Rio/Berkmar Dr. back way that everyone knows about.
    As soon as the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Zion Crossroads (a convenient 15 miles on I-64) is complete, I will go there and:
    a. quit Sam’s Club
    b. stop going to Target
    c. never go to that terrible 29N Lowe’s store again (there’s already one at Zion).
    d. waste no more precious minutes of my life on Albemarle’s stretch of 29.

    Is there some sort of rule that you have to change lanes three-at-a-time on 29?

    29 Business Association, the only prayer you have of ever seeing me again (other than the bypass) is if you build a Dunkin’ Donuts.

    Reply
  3. Waldo Jaquith September 18, 2008 at 20:53

    There are a few reasons why the western bypass is a terrible, terrible idea:

    1. Albemarle County’s own 2005 study showed that the bypass would have no effect on reducing traffic. Remember, the bypass begins at Sam’s Club and ends at UVa. When was the last time you were on 29N and thinking “gosh, I’d really like to be on 29 south of Charlottesville right now”? Never-ish? It’s not like there’s oodles of traffic coming from Culpeper headed to Danville just clogging up 29N. Drive south of town on 29 and you’ll see that the road is empty.

    3. The state’s own study shows that the bypass would save vehicles something like 90 seconds over driving straight through town. (

    4. It would cost $350 (or, rather, would have in 2002 dollars), making it the single most expensive highway—per mile—in the nation.

    5. We already have a bypass. We call it “the bypass.” Perhaps you’ve driven it. 🙂 What’s being proposed here is a bypass bypass. When the Western Bypass was first proposed, the idea was that it would bypass the sprawl. But now the sprawl extends clear to Ruckersville. New traffic lights are being added north of the river every year, and there’s no sign of that slowing. We can either have a bypass (starting at Ruckersville now) or we can allow continued growth and development of the 29 corridor north of the bypass. We cannot have both.

    Reply
  4. Johnson September 19, 2008 at 07:09

    Waldo – I respect a lot of what you say, but you really must not get onto 29 very much. Ninety seconds saved, huh? Have you seen the traffic backed up to Hydraulic trying to get onto the bypass most of the day? You can save much more than 90 seconds jumping off of 29 at Walmart and driving by Albemarle High School on your way to the present bypass. Really, man. You ought to go out and check it out, rather than relying on old studies.
    Having lived in Boston and experienced the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel construction, claiming that this bypass would be the most expensive in the nation is a real joke.
    The proposed bypass isn’t perfect – I’d love to see it extended much further (Mitch Van Yares proposed something like this a few years ago before the Supervisors swiftly shot it down), but it is better than nothing. A couple of years ago a tree came down across Georgetown and that whole side of town was paralyzed. There needs to be more highway options out there. Come on out at 5 PM and talk to some of the folks that live there. You will see. All of that development in Ruckersville and Earlysville funnels right into long-established neighborhoods along Barracks and Georgetown. Those people should not have to pay for developments in the outlying areas.

    Reply
  5. Waldo Jaquith September 19, 2008 at 11:59

    you really must not get onto 29 very much. Ninety seconds saved, huh? Have you seen the traffic backed up to Hydraulic trying to get onto the bypass most of the day? You can save much more than 90 seconds jumping off of 29 at Walmart and driving by Albemarle High School on your way to the present bypass. Really, man. You ought to go out and check it out, rather than relying on old studies.

    I can think of a half dozen reasons why only a minute or two would be saved with a new route. Can’t you envision one?

    The proposed bypass isn’t perfect – I’d love to see it extended much further…but it is better than nothing.

    For $350M—for the most expensive highway per mile in the nation—it ought to be a far sight superior to “better than nothing.” Hell, I could buy myself a pretty nice helicopter and fly back and work each day for about $1M. That would be “better than nothing,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a good way to spend money.

    Come on out at 5 PM and talk to some of the folks that live there.

    I’ll be in Martinsville at 5pm. But thanks, though.

    All of that development in Ruckersville and Earlysville funnels right into long-established neighborhoods along Barracks and Georgetown. Those people should not have to pay for developments in the outlying areas.

    How would a bypass change that? Are you telling me that Ruckersville and Earlysville residents wouldn’t drive to town but, instead, take a currently-unplanned Earlysville access ramp right on the bypass to, say, Nellysford, entirely skipping 29N?

    Johnson, maybe you can tell me what traffic that is currently clogging up 29N so badly that would be routed around the city by this bypass bypass. Where are people going to and from, that they want to go from Wal-Mart clear to 29S, skipping all of C’ville in the process? It’s, what, tractor traffic going from Culpeper to Nelson? Tourists driving 29 from Maryland to North Carolina? People going grocery shopping in Lynchburg? I mean, I can’t even come up with pretend scenarios for what this traffic is that we’re going to route around town. Help me out here. Who are these people? What is this enormous burden of traffic that would be relieved by building a $350,000,000 bypass around our bypass?

    Reply
  6. jmcnamera September 19, 2008 at 12:02

    They should simply ban all home and construction outside more than 10 miles from Charlottesville. This will stop anymore people from moving out there to clog Rt 29 and other roads.

    Or, more seriously they could spread the commercial development out and build more south of town and east and west and stop cramming most of it up Rt 29.

    Reply
  7. Johnson September 19, 2008 at 12:58

    Hey Waldo – As I stated, if you check out 29 during late afternoon sometime, the traffic problem will be instantly clear. There are 18 wheelers backed up southbound past Hydraulic trying to get on the bypass. It doesn’t matter whether they are coming from Culpeper or going to Nelson – the fact is that they are here trying to get through. That traffic would be taken off of 29 and by itself would improve quality of life for the neighborhoods out that way (Meadows, Hessian Hills, Canterbury Hills, Barterbrook, Turtle Creek, etc.) and improve the north-south traffic flow. People in those neighborhoods strongly believe that their housing values are adversely affected by the traffic cutting through their neighborhoods to avoid backups on 29, and trucks are a huge part of that mix.

    As I-81 and I-95 become increasingly congested, long haul truckers are going to look at 29 in increasing numbers as an alternative. It happened a couple of summers ago when I-95 up near Quantico saw an accident in which liquid fertilizer was dumped on the pavement. Hazmat crews had to tear up the southbound lanes and truckers took alternate routes, with a large number coming down U.S. 29 to I-64. A one time occurrence, perhaps, but likely also a future trend as 95 and 81 become more of a crapshoot.

    And since you’ve asked for help envisioning the type of through traffic that is going through our city, I can remind you about one long haul trucker we’ve all heard about who came right through Charlottesville. Kenneth Barbour was driving his rig from Waynesboro up towards DC when he hit Sydney Aichs, an AHS student making a left turn out of Ashwood Boulevard in Forest Lakes South onto 29. Barbour was not local traffic.

    In the past several years we have seen bypasses built around Lynchburg, Staunton, Danville and Stanardsville, serving to route traffic away from the neighborhoods. (Even Martinsville has one!) Charlottesville would be a better place with the same improvement. I can accept that the current location was not optimal. I cannot accept that it means that there should be no bypass.

    Reply
  8. TrvlnMn September 20, 2008 at 20:36

    I’m not in favor of the western bypass as currently proposed because of the unaddressed sprawl issue Waldo mentions in one of his previous posts and because while people say bypass they’re probably thinking beltway.

    But I will address this:

    Waldo asked:

    Where are people going to and from, that they want to go from Wal-Mart clear to 29S, skipping all of C’ville in the process?

    A big chunk of that traffic (myself included) are people commuting to and from a workplace which is along the 29n corridor. Where they’re going? Some are going to southern Albemarle and Nelson County via 29 south (during 5 o’clock rush which usually starts around 4- there are more than just truckers on 250/29 south- usually there are more cars than trucks) Others to I-64 where they’ll travel to communities that are more affordable to live than Charlottesville.

    As for “time saved” by a western bypass or wasted on 29n- I think a more important metric should be- how much gas is wasted in stop and go traffic vs a non-stop point A to point B route? I know from looking at the MPG numbers associated with most vehicles they get better numbers from highway driving (non-stop) than from city (stop and go).

    And FWIW- I take Georgetown Road because when I sit in traffic on 29, in the proper lane to make the merge to the 250/29s ramp, when I’m in traffic in line for the off ramp from the Sperry traffic light onward… all those cars that slow that lane down by cutting over at various points after the hydraulic light… cause me acute road rage. And since I drive a beater – well it’s best to avoid temptation.

    Reply
  9. Jim Duncan September 22, 2008 at 06:41

    From an offline commenter –

    VDOT owns most of the right away for the route that was selected for the bypass. That route also went through all of the appropriate federal environmental challenges. VDOT will continue to own that right of way until at least the middle of the next decade, when it will be forced to sell back some of the right of way to the original owners.

    Also, the Hook had a good article on this a few months back.

    http://www.readthehook.com/Stories/2008/07/24/COVER-squirrelRidge-F.aspx

    Eventually this will be forced to happen, especially if Lynchburg and Danville’s
    economic clout continues to rise. To me, as a Virginian, it is deplorable that there is no dependable way for traffic to skirt around Charlottesville-Albemarle.

    One thing, though – VDOT is about to conduct a corridor-wide study of US29 from North Carolina to Gainesville. I worry that other communities are following Albemarle’s example and destroying a perfectly good US highway (which is funded in order to move people from city to city) with their poor, selfish, short-sighted land-use decisions. This is one place where I wish the federal government could come in and trump a localities’ land-use decisions. One traffic light leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, and the next thing you know, a federal investment is rendered useless.

    Reply
  10. Frank September 22, 2008 at 11:27

    If the state wants south central Virginia to continue to grow and prosper the area needs better access via a limited access type highway. The evolution of US 29 into this type of road is a must. Right now Charlottesville is holding back much of the state from prosperity and growth that is sorely needed.

    Reply
  11. Waldo Jaquith September 25, 2008 at 12:38

    As I stated, if you check out 29 during late afternoon sometime, the traffic problem will be instantly clear.

    I never claimed otherwise. But that has nothing to do with a bypass. A bypass is only useful to get around—bypass—a region. Only a tiny, tiny percentage of the traffic on 29N during the late afternoon is looking to bypass the Charlottesville area.

    There are 18 wheelers backed up southbound past Hydraulic trying to get on the bypass. It doesn’t matter whether they are coming from Culpeper or going to Nelson – the fact is that they are here trying to get through.

    On the contrary, it matters very much. VDOT says—and my observations don’t turn up anything to the contrary—that these trucks are delivering goods to Charlottesville. They’re Sysco trucks bringing ingredients to most restaurants in town, distribution semis bringing electronics to Best Buy and Circuit City, and so on. That’s how goods get in and out of Charlottesville.

    Just last Friday I drove 29S to Martinsville. I’ll tell you, there are precious few semis south of town. These trucks you see on 29N, really, they’re not on their way to any place but Charlottesville.

    In the past several years we have seen bypasses built around Lynchburg, Staunton, Danville and Stanardsville, serving to route traffic away from the neighborhoods. (Even Martinsville has one!) Charlottesville would be a better place with the same improvement. I can accept that the current location was not optimal. I cannot accept that it means that there should be no bypass.

    We already have a bypass with a location that’s not optimal—to put it mildly—and you can see how much good that’s doing us. Why in the world would we spend $350M to make the same mistake again? Do you know what we could buy for $350M? That’s a stunning amount of money.

    Reply

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