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SELC Report Says Western Bypass Won't Solve Traffic Congestion

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The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) says a new analysis shows the Western Bypass won't help traffic issues around Charlottesville.    

Wednesday the group released an analysis of previous traffic studies done.    

The report cites a traffic study done in the late 80's that says only 10 percent of the traffic on Route 29 would use the bypass.    

SELC is sending the report to the Federal Highway Administration, the Virginia Department of Transportation, Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.


SELC Press Release:

An analysis released today of previous traffic studies for the proposed Route 29 bypass in Albemarle County confirms that the highway will not solve traffic congestion on Route 29, and urges federal and state transportation officials to focus on alternative solutions.

The report was written by Norm Marshall, a traffic expert with Smart Mobility, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in transportation modeling, design and planning, and was released by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is sending the report to the Federal Highway Administration, Virginia Department of Transportation, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council, and others. 

Read the report here.

While finding flaws in the studies, Marshall says that the most thorough one, done between 1988 and 1990, indicated that the bypass would not remove enough vehicles from Route 29 to improve traffic congestion significantly.  That study found that only about 10% of the traffic on the most congested section of Route 29 is "through" traffic -- in other words, the vast majority of vehicles are shoppers, workers and residents making local trips.  The data indicated that because of this, the amount of traffic diverted onto the bypass would still leave Route 29 operating at a failing level of service during peak periods.

Marshall also finds that increased traffic from development approved north of the bypass in recent years would significantly reduce any minimal traffic relief the bypass might offer.

"The proposed bypass would be even less effective today than the limited value demonstrated by the 1988-1990 modeling because of intensive development, large traffic volumes, and the increase in the number of traffic signals north of the proposed terminus of the project," he writes.

Since 2003, in Albemarle County alone, roughly 3,000 residential units and more than 3 million square feet of other development have been approved north of where the proposed bypass would tie back into Route 29.  In addition, there are nine traffic lights on the 5.7-mile stretch of Route 29 in Albemarle County north of the bypass, and at least three more are proposed.

Marshall also finds that the studies on which VDOT based its most recent traffic projections have serious flaws.  As a result, VDOT's forecasts of the number of vehicles that would use the bypass, including the estimate in its Request for Proposals (RFP) for the project, are completely off base.  These forecasts appear to be based on an unrealistic annual rate of traffic growth of 1.7%.  In fact, the actual rate over the past two decades on Route 29 between Rio and Hydraulic roads, the busiest segment of the corridor, has been only 0.5%, and traffic has actually dropped in this stretch in the last ten years, according to the report.  Using this 0.5% rate of growth, it would be the year 2230 before 32,300 vehicles per day traveled the bypass.   

"VDOT's sky-high projection of traffic growth results in an unjustifiable estimate of the number of vehicles that would use the bypass, and hides the truth that it is an outdated and ineffective proposal," said Morgan Butler, Director of SELC's Charlottesville-Albemarle Project.

The report identifies key steps FHWA and VDOT must take to develop a valid traffic forecast that presents a realistic picture of any benefits of the proposed bypass.  Marshall recommends that the agencies examine a combination of improvements – including grade-separated intersections on Route 29, which have been shown to be more effective in reducing delay on Route 29 -- and enhancements to the local road network, as recommended in a recent study prepared for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 

"The amount of money that would be necessary to build the proposed bypass could be spent much more effectively on targeted improvements along the Route 29 corridor," Marshall concluded.