The future of Charlottesville's Route 29 corridor is now in the hands of a select few.
A 10-member advisory panel will begin exploring alternatives to the Western Bypass later this month. And one thing is clear: any sort of bypass around Charlottesville is officially out of the question.
Addressing the Commonwealth Transportation Board Wednesday morning in Richmond, the newly appointed chair of that advisory panel said in no uncertain terms, "a bypass is not something we would consider.” This comes exactly one month to the day after we learned the Federal Highway Administration would not grant approval to the long-discussed Western Bypass, asking the Virginia Department of Transportation and the transportation board to find alternatives to the project.
Wednesday, VDOT laid out its ambitious plans. It's giving this newly formed advisory panel two months to come up with a "package" of proposals on how to improve Route 29 traffic flow through Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
“It may include widening, it may include improvements to interchanges, it may include doing something with access points. We just don't have any idea,” said Philip Shucet, chair of the advisory panel and former VDOT commissioner.
The panel will have until May 14 to make recommendations.
VDOT wants it to be done for less than the $200 million, and wants the project to be well underway or completed within the next four years.
Some say this is a step in the right direction, but others aren't so sure.
“You're going to do this in two months, right? We've been doing it 25 years,” said Sheppard Miller, at-large urban member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
Some business leaders are concerned a new plan could devastate the economy along Route 29 in Albemarle County.
“More than 40 percent of Albemarle County's local tax revenue, and turning that road into an expressway we don't believe is a good option,” said Timothy Hulbert, chief executive of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
What is clear is that these proposals will not include a bypass around the city, instead dealing with the existing Route 29 corridor.
Virginia Department of Transportation Press Release
An advisory panel convened by Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne will meet in Charlottesville on March 27 to assist with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) work on recommendations for improvements to the Route 29 corridor in the Charlottesville region.
“We must identify reasonable solutions to the congestion on the Route 29 corridor in the Charlottesville area,” said Secretary Layne. “Local input and support is crucial but we must also consider the needs of the other communities along this vital transportation artery. This group brings all those interests to the table as the commonwealth develops recommendations for improvements that will benefit those communities as well as the entire state.”
The 10-member panel led by former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet will include officials from Albemarle County, the cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville, the towns of Culpeper and Warrenton, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Charlottesville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
VDOT will provide recommendations for improvements that can be built or substantially under way within four years, can be accomplished within the approximately $200 million already dedicated to Route 29 improvements in that area, and to bring the recommended solutions to the CTB no later than May 14.
The first meeting will be held at the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research at the University of Virginia. Additional meetings will be held at locations on the Route 29 corridor. The advisory panel’s meetings will be open to the public. Public comment will be accepted via the project’s web site and reviewed at each meeting.