Letter: Bypass stinks but should still be built
In his May 23 Essay, "Barnum's Beaming: The greatest bypass on Earth!", Randy Salzman is incensed with the "bait and switch" tactics employed by the Skanska-Branch Corp. and VDOT in the "design/build" process for constructing the Western Bypass. He should be. So am I. To initially accept an obviously inferior, low-ball proposal, then turn around and modify it without an open competition is outrageous. But, to translate this outrage into an excuse to not build the Western Bypass at all makes no sense.
As a "transportation researcher," he knows the importance of the big picture in making transportation decisions. And the big, overwhelming issue here is, "How do we make the connection with US 29 south and US 29 north?" That was the whole purpose of the VDOT meeting at the Holiday Inn on Thursday night.
Understandably, the residents of Colthurst and Canterbury Hills would prefer to see it moved to somewhere else. Where else? The default location must be the current intersection at Emmet Street and the US 250 bypass.
This is the bottleneck; this is where the US 29 corridor so spectacularly fails; and this intersection has been left out of the county sponsored Places 29 study.
Randy suggests that we could simply build grade-separated interchanges with US 29 at Rio and Hydraulic Roads for only $80 million. This figure is suspect. In 2003, the extensive 29H250 study projected a cost of $89.2 million for the Hydraulic/250 bypass intersection alone. Even that figure is probably too low, since Best Buy, Whole Foods and the Shops at Stonefield have occupied the area. Moreover, the relatively uncomplicated extension of Hillsdale Drive is anticipated to cost $26 million. And it involves no new bridges and little right-of-way acquisition. This tight triangular area, which is the city's third most productive site in terms of commercial taxes, is not an easy place to build new roads.
So how do we connect US 29 north with US 29 south?
The Western Bypass is one solution. It has advantages and disadvantages. As a city resident, I see its major advantage as providing another connection into the University grounds. (Have you ever watched traffic on Emmet Street on a Friday afternoon when it is effectively backed up to Memorial Gym?) Truckers stuck in line trying to get on to the 250 bypass and US 29 south probably see a different advantage.
Yes, the Western Bypass also has significant disadvantages. It is no longer a true bypass since the county has grown far beyond its original northern terminus. It is far too close to several county schools (even if some were deliberately sited to impede the bypass). The late night tactics used to pass its approval at the Board of Supervisors still rankles, and the VDOT mishandling of the design/build process has been appalling.
So, there is a lot to dislike.
But, what is our alternative? I have attended CHART and MPO meetings for over 10 years and have heard a great deal of condemnation, but no other viable options. Moreover, further delay only limits our available choices. For example, the granting of conservation easements has ruled out any possible bypass to the east of the city.
To paraphrase Churchill's famous evaluation of democracy as a form of government: the Western Bypass is the worst possible solution to our US 29 congestion— except for all the other alternative options.