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Albemarle Supervisors declined to ask state highway officials to update an 18-year-old analysis of the Charlottesville Bypass before putting the project out for bids. It’s full speed ahead for the controversial, $245 million project.

Sound barriers — will they be in the RFP?

by James A. Bacon

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors nixed a resolution Wednesday to ask the state highway department to update a traffic and environmental analysis of the Charlottesville Bypass before putting the $245 million project out for bids. The board voted instead to ask the Virginia Department of Transportation to complete the update before construction commences.

Why the controversy? Ann H. Mallek, the board chair, and Dennis S. Rooker argued that it is crucial to get updated information in circulation before VDOT issues the Request for Proposal. That way, contractors will know exactly what they are bidding on and the state won’t have to come back later with expensive change orders.

But a majority of board members were satisfied that the project schedule laid out by VDOT at a previous board meeting would accommodate any needed changes. They worried that putting off bids until the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement would create unnecessary delays for a project that has languished for nearly 20 years.

In remarks after the board meeting, Mallek conceded that the compromise resolution “has no power.” VDOT is not obligated to honor the board’s request. Further, once a contract is awarded, it will be too late to request changes to the project design without incurring extra charges. Morgan Butler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, termed the final resolution “meaningless.” Even Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, described it as a “toothless resolution.”

The original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the U.S. 29 Bypass was written 18 years ago, and a supplemental impact statement, focused mainly on protecting the county’s drinking-water reservoir, was completed eight years ago. Although the project has received all necessary approvals, VDOT is required to conduct a written re-evaluation before construction begins. Mallek and Rooker contended that the data in the old evaluations are seriously out of date and that new data could influence the final design. Not only are the traffic numbers obsolete, but recent scientific research has documented the detrimental effects of highway pollutants on the health of children – a particularly sensitive issue given that six schools are located near the proposed Bypass route.

The resolution called on VDOT to update traffic modeling of the bypass, consider the scientific research on the effects of highway pollutants, conduct an analysis of health and noise impacts, engage with citizens in a public hearing, and consider a reduction in the bypass design speed from 60 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour.

Supervisor Kenneth Boyd contended that it was not necessary to hold up the RFP, which VDOT has scheduled for September. “They’ve told us they’re going to award a design-build contract with the caveat that they’ll come back after the public hearing and may make change orders.”

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7 responses to “Zoom Zoom Zoom!

  1. one of the questions that NEPA asks is in the information is “complete” and if a citizen files an objection with FHWA on that basis – and the answer is no then FHWA usually requires the information to be brought up to date – in part because projects working off of older info often end up with costly delays that exceed the original estimates.

    VDOT cannot go forward on this without FHWA approval.

    It will be interesting to see what happens but I’d not be shocked to see those radical environmentalists at FHWA require updating.

    • I think you are all wrong. As a member of the original Western Bypass Committee 20 years, whose residential property is within four feet of the R.O.W. of the By-Pass, I brought up this exact issue for discussion by the entire committee — which included VDOT officials, City Planners, County Planners, and general public leaders.
      VDOT had a specific dollar-value formula that is based on the number of residences that a sound barrier wall will “protect”. They will spend a certain amount of funds ($10k maximum as I recall) for each of the residences protected. Thus, if the roadway went by an apartment complex of 400 units, VDOT would spend up to $10k x 400) $4 million in protection for such a wall. But if the road way was going through a local neighborhood (such as mine – for which they expected to leave 12 houses still standing) then they would spend up to ($10k x 12) $120,000. Their initial estimate of the wall required to protect our remaining fragment of a neighborhood was $4-5 million — far in excess of the $120k, thus they would NOT put up a sound-protection wall. (Had we been an apartment complex of 400 units, they would have.) When I pointed asked the rhetorical question — sarcastically- that since I had moved from the city, where I had a house literally 20′ on either side of me on a business roadway, out to the County adjacent to the Ivy Creek Natural Area to deliberately have less density and more peace and quiet; and thus, because of the sparse density, VDOT would not spend funds to protect that peace and quiet…. what was I to do or should have done?
      After a moment of silence from the Committee (who clearly had no valid response to that rhetorical question) a dear friend of mine on the Committee, Satyendra Huja, in his own way and accent jokingly commented “Well, you can always move back to the City!”
      The Squirrel Ridge community of 23 residences got torn in half 20 years ago when VDOT purchased 11 houses and started renting them to tenants — who with all due respect, are just not the same as “neighbors”.

  2. sound wall costs are usually the locality’s financial cost…

    the question here is who picks up the additional costs that would arise out of change orders?

    I’m betting that VDOT is going to ask Charlottesville to pay for them since it is the locality that wants to push ahead without getting final cost data first.

  3. Thanks for pointing out that sound walls are the locality’s responsibility. I wasn’t aware of that. That explains why Mallek was concerned about the possibility. (I was wondering, why is she so concerned if VDOT runs up the tab — Albemarle’s not paying for it. Now I know.

    On your point about the FHWA, as I understand it, VDOT asked to skip the EIS update but FHWA is making them do it.

  4. I may not have told the whole truth about sound wall funding. The Feds and the State will pick up – up to 90% of the cost WHERE THEY AGREE that they are needed which is more often than not what the folks who are impacted think.

    so it becomes a shared cost responsibility.

    what the EIS would show is WHERE the noise levels will be increased and which areas the Feds/VDOT think sound walls will be needed, and their criteria is NOT the ambient levels before the road is built but a criteria that accept some increase in noise…

    anyone who think noise is not an issue need only stand contemplatively outside a rest stop and think about your home being there at that location.

    Noise is a big issue.

    here’s a VDOT pub ( that exposes my lie)…:

    http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/resources/soundwalls_brochure.pdf

    it’s hard to believe that they already know the scope of the need without performing an update.. of the EIS.

    Now Groveton / Hydra will likely say this is just NIMBY… and they might be right but I’d bet you if a highway like this was proposed next to Groveton’s palatial estate in Great Falls he’d be hollering like a stuck pig also..

    🙂

  5. oh and from the VDOT pub:

    “What if the cost is more than $30,000 per
    affected property?
    They can still be built if a third party — someone other than VDOT
    or FHWA, such as a locality or developer — funds the difference

    The neighborhood can also participate as the third party, or the affected
    residents can pursue additional funding sources.”

    oh and this is going to please:

    ” Third-party payments
    must be received before highway construction starts to minimize the cost
    of the walls.”

    so those who are impacted have to pony up money themselves to block noise from the road?

    and how would they know – without completion of the EIS first?

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