Studies show.... Bypass to use Greer kids as guinea pigs
We teach our school kids to do homework. Can we teach our county supervisors?
Since the last Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Charlottesville’s 6.2-mile, $230 million-plus Western Bypass was completed in 2003, research studies linking highway exhaust to childhood asthma and reduced lung capacity are legion. Yet three Albemarle County supervisors recently argued against updating the Impact Statement.
“We understand that a recent study of California schoolchildren that live next to freeways is unsettled science and has not been adopted by the EPA as a concern nationwide,” they wrote the Federal Highway Administration. “We know of no evidence in Virginia, or along the 29/250 corridor where many schools are already next to the road, where there have been health issues.”
Supervisor Ken Boyd, our area’s main bypass proponent, is obviously willing to bet that California’s research is wrong. Since his house lies in Key West, almost eight miles from Charlottesville's own Road to Nowhere, he’s making a safe bet. However, the parents, teachers, and school children near the path of this highway– which even VDOT admits will not decrease congestion on U.S. 29– might want some facts before making the same bet.
This so-called “bypass”– which runs primarily near established neighborhoods– begins at UVA’s Darden Graduate School of Business and ends below the Hollymead Town Center after running within a quarter mile of the Colonnades senior living facility and six area schools.
Our Supervisors are apparently hung up on an “unsettled” California study. There are at least two California studies about highways and school kids. According to the American Lung Association: “Tracking 1,759 children between ages 10 and 18, researchers found that those who grew up in more polluted areas face the increased risk of having underdeveloped lungs, which may never recover to their full capacity. The average drop in lung function was 20 percent below what was expected for the child’s age.”
The other study of 3,300 school children in Southern California “found reduced lung function in girls with asthma and boys who spent more time outdoors in areas with high levels of ozone.” High-speed traffic, of course, produces ozone.
Opponents and supporters of cigarette smoking recognize that long-term exposure breeds cancer, asthma, and heart disease. The effects from second-hand smoke, much like the exposure one gets from six daily hours 1,600 feet from a freeway populated by 18-wheelers, don’t arise overnight.
On one point, our Supervisors are right: there haven’t been any traffic-child health studies in Virginia. But do our Supervisors actually believe 1) that health effects show up instantaneously, or 2) that Virginia kids carry some biological immunity to highway exhaust that California children don't possess?
It's not just Californians. Extensive German research, where unification allowed researchers to compare lungs to traffic growth, found similar data. Moreover, a nine-year study of Swiss kids and diesel particulates– something that will increase with the 18-wheel freight traffic the 29 Bypass will bring– found that “during the years with less pollution, the children had fewer episodes of chronic cough, bronchitis, common cold, and conjunctivitis symptoms.”
A 2010 review of American “Traffic-Related Air Pollution” studies by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute found a "causal relationship" between traffic-related air pollution and the exacerbation of asthma and a "suggestive evidence of a causal relationship" with the onset of childhood asthma, as well as non-asthma respiratory symptoms, impaired lung function, as well as cardiovascular mortality.
Our Supervisors argue the EPA has “not adopted” this issue as a “nationwide” concern. Presumably, they mean the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t yet demanded that schools be moved away from highways. Last year, however, when the EPA established guidelines on school siting near highways, the EPA noted that such decisions should include many factors including types of vehicles, average speeds, wind direction, and whether kids walk and bike. One thing the EPA did urge was the hiring of professional evaluators to check every school presently standing less than half a mile from a major highway.
Agnor-Hurt Elementary, Mary Greer Elementary, Jack Jouett Middle, Albemarle High School, Ivy Creek, and St. Anne's-Belfield School are all within a quarter mile of the planned Western Bypass, and most have playgrounds or athletic fields within 500 feet.
A pop foul from the Greer softball field lands on the Western Bypass route.
And it’s not just children's health. When anyone does the research on this highway project, he or she learns very quickly that our area gets all of the pain and none of the gain. The Bypass won’t decrease congestion or create local long-term jobs, and it sucks up future transportation funding while increasing noise, air, and water pollution in Albemarle County.
Indeed, a former Virginia Business editor subjected the Western Bypass to a rigorous return-on-investment analysis. His conclusion became the title of his report: “The Road to Wealth Destruction.”
A former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University, Randy Salzman is a Charlottesville-based transportation researcher.Attached Documents:Read more on: western bypass