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New Transportation Secretary Weighs In On Western Bypass - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

New Transportation Secretary Weighs In On Western Bypass

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From Danville to Charlottesville, business groups are pressing Virginia's new leaders to take sides in an old debate - to build or not to build the long-discussed Route 29 Western Bypass.

Now Virginia's next Secretary of Transportation, Aubrey Layne, says he could weigh in on the bypass in a matter of weeks.

"To have a successful project you do need to have people understand, they may not agree, but they understand what you're trying to accomplish," Layne said Thursday in an interview with NBC29. "On all major projects, we're going to evaluate them and we'll have several goals in mind."

Goals like relieving congestion and spurring economic development - two cornerstones of a memo sent to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary Layne this week by members of four different regional chambers of commerce along the Route 29 corridor. The seven-page document lays out the business community's arguments for moving forward with the project.

"I think that there are plenty of facts that have already been laid out there, I will evaluate them," Layne said.

The memo cites safety concerns, saying half of all accidents on Route 29 in Virginia occur in Charlottesville-Albemarle. It also notes traffic congestion, and the $50 million already spent on the project. But Layne says one factor will play a chief role in determining the bypass' fate.

"A lot of the decisions, the best decisions particularly in transportation, need local support," he said.

A former member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Layne once voted to fund the bypass. But opponents now far outweigh supporters on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and will control two key positions on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Board, which could block funding to the bypass.

"There's an MPO up there, and their guidance will be helpful in making this decision," he said.

For now, Layne is on a fact-finding mission.

"Certainly get me a briefing again on the road, I plan to visit the road particularly with the engineer of VDOT, and so that will begin the process of me making an assessment to make a recommendation to the governor," he said.

As for when that recommendation will come down, he's not sure. But he's ready to get to work.

"We'll evaluate that particular project, and I'll make a recommendation between the next coming weeks as we go through it," he said.

During a meeting in Richmond Wednesday, Layne says he spoke with members of the commonwealth transportation board about the bypass, and looks forward to hearing input from all sides.

The state legislature must still confirm his selection as secretary of transportation.

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