Opponents of the Charlottesville Bypass are calling for an update to the project’s 18-year-old environmental impact analysis.
by James A. Bacon
How old does a traffic impact analysis for a major highway project have to be before it gets so old that you should throw it out and start over?
To be more specific, if the traffic analysis contained in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Charlottesville Bypass is 18 years old and the supplemental EIS is eight years old, should the Virginia Department of Transportation conduct an update before building the controversial, $244 million project?
Ann H. Mallek and Dennis Rooker, members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors think so. And they have submitted a resolution, to be considered Wednesday, for the board to formally request VDOT to update traffic modeling for the bypass and consider new scientific research documenting the effects of highway pollutants on children in nearby schools before awarding a contract.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved $197 million funding for the project — on top of tens of millions of dollars already spent on right-of-way acquisition and engineering — and is moving expeditiously to get the project underway. However, foes of the project, who insist that the money could be better spent on alternate projects in the U.S. 29 corridor, say that the project “is not a done deal.” (See “Battle over C-ville Bypass Moves to Next Phase.“)
“Among other items, the traffic modeling, the traffic estimates, the air quality analyses and the noise analyses in the environmental impact statements are now outdated and additional analysis needs to be done,” states the resolution. “There is significant new information that has been developed since the environmental impact statements were prepared, including new scientific research documenting the detrimental effects of highway pollutants on the health of individuals, and children, especially.”
“There has been tremendous growth around the northern terminus of the Bypass,” says Rooker. The largest residential development in the county, Hollymead, was not fully built out at the time. Hollymead Town Center, one of the county’s biggest shopping centers did not exist. Either did major employment centers such as the National Ground Intelligence Center and the University of Virginia Research Park. Also, although the U.S. 29 corridor was zoned for development in the early 1990s, he says, much of it has been rezoned.
“You’ve got thousands of people living there that weren’t there,” says Rooker. “You’ve got more vehicles in and around that area now.” Travelers through Charlottesville will encounter miles of stoplights and congestion north of the Bypass, making the project obsolete the day it opens.
Furthermore, new scientific research has documented the detrimental effect of highway pollutants on the health of children. That point was made repeatedly during public hearings by citizens concerned that the Bypass would run very close to six different schools. “Several states have outlawed the building of highways within 1,000 feet of schools,” Rooker notes.
The resolution is sure to inspire opposition from supporters of the Charlottesville Bypass, who argue that after nearly two decades of obstruction it’s time to start construction. Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, sees no point in studying the traffic impact again. What’s it going to change, he asks? A new count showing more commuters than projected two decades ago will provide all the more justification for the bypass.
“It’s not a huge leap of faith to think that traffic has increased,” he says. Thousands of commuters living north of the Bypass terminus and commuting to the University of Virginia or other Charlottesville destinations will gladly take the bypass to circumvent part of the congestion.
As for the impact of automobile emissions on child health, Williamson says, the EPA website says that findings should not be used at this time in determining road-siting decisions.There are currently no comments highlighted.