Proposed Bypass Puts Albemarle on Endangered Environments List

Posted: Updated: Feb 7, 2013 04:12 PM EST

Albemarle County is one of the most endangered environments in the Southeast, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). This is the second year in a row that Albemarle has made the SELC's top 10 list.

The SELC is concerned about the impact of the proposed Western Bypass on the community. The SELC says the bypass is being steamrolled toward construction, and better, less expensive alternatives are being overlooked.  They say alternatives would pose less danger to schools near the proposed bypass, the reservoir, and the ecology of the county.

"We can either directly fix the problems on 29 and make it a more desirable place, a more attractive place to live and to shop or we can cut a new highway 6.2 miles around it, cutting close to 6 schools, coming within 500 feet of our major drinking water reservoir, going through the countryside and taking down trees," said Morgan Butler, SELC senior attorney.

The bypass would cost over $200 million. The SELC says that money could be spent on more effective solutions.

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors member Rodney Thomas says the bypass will fuel the county's economy.

"I just think it needs to be our business district. It doesn't need to be a super highway, it doesn't need to be a freeway and plus it's going to take 24,000 to 28,000 cars off of that part of the road per day," said Thomas.

Thomas adds that the impact of the bypass on the environment will not be significant enough to stop the process.

"We all have to do our one little part and this bypass is not going to contribute any more than is being contributed right now," said Thomas.

Thomas and the SELC do agree on one thing: whether the bypass is built or not, the decision will have a big impact on the county.

"Where we invest our transportation money has a huge impact on the health and the quality of life in our community," said Maria Hawthorne, SELC marketing director.

The SELC hopes this ranking will encourage the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to review alternatives to the bypass. VDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration to figure out what exactly the bypass would mean for the county's environment.