Officials Celebrate Completion of U.S. 29 Projects

Fun with scissors and ribbons. Governor Terry McAuliffe and other officials celebrate the opening of Berkmar Drive.

More than three years after the Federal Highway Administration halted construction of the Charlottesville Bypass on U.S. 29, state and local officials celebrated yesterday the opening of a package of alternative projects known as the Route 29 Solutions projects, the Daily Progress reports today.

The Bypass was one of the most contentious highway projects of the McDonnell administration. U.S. 29 north of Charlottesville is one of the most congested stretches of highway in Virginia, but many residents opposed the bypass on the grounds that it provided only a stopgap solution. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) devised a set of alternative projects: spot improvements designed to increase capacity and divert traffic from the highway, which had been clogged by commercial development, stop lights, cut-throughs and curb cuts, for roughly the same amount of money as the Bypass would have cost.

The Route 29 Solutions projects included widening a stretch of U.S. 29; the extension of Berkmar Drive, a parallel road; and installation of a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road, the busiest intersection. The project set an important transportation precedent for Virginia, breaking from the traditional practice of simply building new bypasses around congested stretches of highway.

“To be here now four years later and actually see what is behind us is a tribute to all the folks, the business community, the community groups that came together, all of the folks involved — it truly is extraordinary,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe at the celebrated opening of Berkmar Drive yesterday.

Bacon’s bottom line: While the Bypass would have benefited primarily inter-city motorists seeking to pass around Charlottesville, the Route 29 Solutions benefits all motorists, including those in the Charlottesville area who use the heavily traveled corridor. In providing intense journalist coverage of the Bypass at the time, Bacon’s Rebellion made the case that it offered a low cost-to-benefit ratio in terms of money spent and travel time saved.

It remains to be seen if the Route 29 Solutions package will deliver the promised costs as benefits. As I recall, the master plan also called for improved transit and pedestrian access throughout the corridor. For the corridor to function well over the long run, Albemarle County needs a new vision for land use along the corridor, allowing for an evolution from the sprawl development model to a traffic-reducing Smart Growth model. Whether the Albemarle Board made those changes in the past three years, I do not know.

Even if Albemarle did put the land use piece into place, the work isn’t over. The corridor undoubtedly will require continual adjustments and fine tuning.

It would be nice to know how well the traffic assumptions behind the Route 29 Solutions stand up to reality. Will motorists respond as forecast? Will congestion diminish? Will the payback in reduced travel time justify the money spent? Now that the money is spent, the project can’t be undone. Still, it would be wise for VDOT to collect and analyze that data and examine core assumptions. There are many other congested highway corridors in the Commonwealth, and Virginians can learn from the example of Rt. 29.

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One response to “Officials Celebrate Completion of U.S. 29 Projects

  1. US 29 is a example of a region – that could not reach consensus on how to proceed.. so the decision got booted to FHWA and VDOT.. who.. with Phillip Shucet .. worked to a consensus or sorts.. that basically was a “fix” in place rather than a new road… and it’s not going to please everyone and not to say the least the folks down Lynchburg way who want US-29 to become I-73…and go AROUND Cville.

    In some respects – the US 29 saga in Cville is about how to meet the needs of a city/region – at the same time meeting the needs of those traveling from afar north and south trying to get through and around Cville.. without gettig trapped in Cville traffic and gridlock.

    It’s really not unlike the poor folks from Maine and Florida trying to get through Washington… and getting slammed by Washington regional traffic on the co-opted I-95 interstate that no longer “works” the way that Interstates were originally designed – to allow longer distance travellers to “go around” the cities.. That concept died when beltways were grafted onto the original interstates and grow then “sprawled” beyond the city core to encompass the beltways – and beyond – 50 miles and more to places like Fredericksburg…

    The commuters in Fredericksburg…. “think” that I-95 and it’s purpose is for their commute – and they resent those “‘out of region” travellers .. crapping up their commute!

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