US-29 Charlottesville Bypass

The US-29 Charlottesville Bypass bypass extension will be a 6.2-mile-long 4-lane freeway, and in 2002 it is estimated to cost $180 million for engineering, right-of-way, and construction. The existing 3.4 miles of the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass is a 4-lane freeway.

Article index with internal links
Background
Proposed US-29 Charlottesville Bypass Project
History of the Current US-29 Charlottesville Bypass Project
Three-Phase Plan for US-29 Improvements
Ruling by U.S. District Court on US-29 Bypass Project

Ruling by U. S. Court of Appeals on US-29 Bypass Project
JLARC Review of the Highway Location Process
State and Regional Interest in the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass
CTB Deletes Urban Interchanges and Goes Forward with Bypass
JLARC Findings and Agency Responses
US-29 Interstate Highway
Truck Toll Lane Proposal for I-81 and Impact on US-29
The Route 29 Bypass: A Rational View
What is "Sprawl"?
Sources

Credits

Background

U.S. Route 29 was completed as a 4-lane divided highway in the Lynchburg and Charlottesville areas by 1972, as part of the 1,750-mile-long Arterial System in Virginia. Each region has grown substantially since then, well beyond the relatively short bypasses that were built back then. The original Charlottesville bypass still works fairly well, and it is 3.4 miles long, which was long enough to bypass the city when it was completed in 1962, and long enough for at least 25 years afterward. Development along US-29 for 4 miles north of there over the last 10 years has transformed that section of US-29 from a high-speed highway into a lower speed urban arterial with traffic lights and with heavy adjacent strip business development, and traffic congestion in peak periods can sometimes cause 20 to 30 minute travel times to travel those 4 miles. The new bypass is intended to address those traffic problems.

The existing 3.4 miles of the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass is a 4-lane freeway. The US-250 portion of the Charlottesville Bypass is not a freeway, and it was built before the US-29 portion of the bypass. The US-250 portion seems to operate fairly well, as does the US-29 portion, except at peak periods; the need is to extend the bypass 6 miles north. The new US-29 bypass will extend the existing US-29 bypass for 6 miles further north, so that US-29 (a Virginia Arterial Highway) will have a freeway bypass of that portion of US-29. Since 1995, US-29 has been a National Highway System, Principal Arterial north-south 4-lane highway from I-40/I-85 in central North Carolina to I-66 in Northern Virginia. The new US-29 bypass will be a statutory limited access highway built to full freeway standards. There will be no at-grade intersections or driveways built along such a highway, when it is built or after it is built.

Proposed US-29 Charlottesville Bypass Project

The new bypass will be 6.2 miles long, and in 2002 it is estimated to cost $180 million for engineering, right-of-way, and construction. The map below doesn't show the interchange detail, but there will be a full interchange with the existing US-29 bypass, and direct 2-lane-each-way roadway connections between existing and new for the US-29 through movement, and there will be a full semi-directional interchange with existing US-29 at the north end of the new bypass. Notice the 0.6-mile-long North Grounds Connector, that is an urban arterial extension from the new bypass into the north area of the University of Virginia campus, and it will have a full local interchange with the existing US-29 bypass.

Map from the Design Public Hearing brochure, from VDOT's Design Public Hearing on February 25, 1997.

Click for large image: Large (110K).

The 6.2-mile-long new US-29 bypass will have interchanges only at each end, to limit nearby residential and business development, and to keep the function of the bypass as a true bypass. Alternate 10, one of 7 alternates presented in June 1990 at the Location Public Hearing, was selected by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) on November 15, 1990. The Alternate 10 bypass originally would have included interchanges also at VA-654 Barracks Road and at VA-743 Hydraulic Road, but in January 1993, they were deleted from the plan, to alleviate local concerns about possible excessive future rural residential and business development growth. The localities may at some time in the future after the bypass is completed, ask VDOT to build one or both of those interchanges; but VDOT and FHWA would have to agree to fund and build them, and NEPA law will specify detailed studies first to evaluate the impact of added interchanges. If such studies show that excessive new traffic would be the result, then I would be completely in favor of VDOT and FHWA denying the new interchanges.

 

Map from "Route 29 Bypass: Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville", handout sheet from the Public Hearing, held on March 14, 2002, by VDOT.

 

Click for large image: Large (187K).

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Map from "Route 29 Corridor Study, City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County"; Location Public Hearing brochure, from the Location Public Hearing, held on June 28, 1990, by VDOT.

 

Click for large image: Large (209K).

History of the Current US-29 Charlottesville Bypass Project

This project history is from the legal opinion filed on August 21, 2001, by Judge Norman K. Moon, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. His legal research provided a very thorough historical summary, compiled from VDOT's US-29 Charlottesville Bypass project files, as well as the below referenced Review of the Highway Location Process by JLARC which provided an in-depth audit/review of this project in January 1998. The website links to the legal opinion, and to the JLARC report, are cited in the Sources at the bottom of my website article.

Factual and Procedural Background U.S. District Court ruling follows (blue text):

The proposed construction of a western bypass of Route 29 around the City of Charlottesville and through Albemarle County, Virginia. The bypass, as presently proposed, will be a four-lane, 6.2 mile highway running to the west of the current Route 29. The southern terminus of the bypass will be placed approximately 0.7 miles north of the Route 29/250 interchange, and the northern terminus will be approximately 0.5 miles north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River. The project will also entail the building of a connector road into the North Grounds of the University of Virginia, located on the south side of the existing Route 29/250 bypass. As currently contemplated, access to the bypass will be via the interchanges at both ends, with no intermediate access points to crossroads or adjacent properties.

The bypass project, in its present form, is the product of many years of study, planning, and debate over the best means of alleviating traffic congestion on the Route 29 corridor through the Charlottesville area. Over the years, various improvements have been suggested, with the principal propositions including a widening of the existing highway, construction of an expressway along the present highway corridor, and construction of bypasses of various configurations. In 1986, the Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA") approved a draft Environmental Assessment ("EA") for widening Route 29. At the time of the draft EA, Route 29 consisted of four lanes with a graded median. The widening project was to entail expansion of the road to six lanes, in addition to continuous right-turn lanes, between the Route 250 bypass and the South Fork of the Rivanna River. In 1991, the Virginia Department of Transportation ("VDOT") submitted a final EA to the FHWA, and the FHWA issued a finding of no significant impact ("FONSI") with regard to the widening project. This widening of Route 29 came to be known as the Base Case, and will be referred to as such in this memorandum opinion.

In 1986, Albemarle County representatives asked VDOT to evaluate the possibility of building an expressway along the existing Route 29 corridor. Local officials and citizens of the area recommended that VDOT hold construction of the Base Case improvements in abeyance until the completion of a comprehensive study of the Route 29 corridor in Albemarle County north of Charlottesville. In 1987, VDOT selected a consultant to conduct the study, which lasted from 1987 to 1993. The study included analyses of traffic volumes and patterns, as well as evaluations of various alternatives, including expressway concepts.

The alternatives determined to be reasonable were documented in a draft EIS ("DEIS"), which was approved by the FHWA in 1990. Among the alternatives chosen to be discussed in the DEIS were the Base Case, the Base Case plus three grade separated interchanges, mass transit and transportation system management strategies, seven bypass alternatives of various alignments, and an expressway. The Base Case served as the "no build" alternative for the DEIS. The DEIS discussed various environmental and socioeconomic impacts presented by the different alternatives, and it also evaluated the potential effects of the alternatives on Section 4(f) resources such as public parks, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, and historic sites. The DEIS was distributed to numerous state and federal agencies, and was made available to the public.

On November 15, 1990, after considering the DEIS and public comments thereon, the Commonwealth Transportation Board ("CTB") selected a combination of alternatives for the Route 29 corridor. According to the CTB's resolution, the selected improvements were to be implemented in three phases in order to address short, medium, and long-range needs. During Phase I of the project, the CTB resolved to construct the Base Case improvements, to reserve rights of way for the future construction of interchanges at Rio Road, Greenbrier Drive, and Hydraulic Road, to approve the Alternative 10 western bypass corridor for future development, and to begin the process of securing rights of way for the bypass corridor. The CTB next resolved that Phase II of the project would be the construction of grade-separated interchanges at Rio Road, Greenbrier Drive, and Hydraulic Road, along with continued preservation of the right of way for the bypass. Finally, the CTB resolved that Phase III of the project would consist of the construction of the western bypass.

In 1992, the City of Charlottesville, the County of Albemarle, and the University of Virginia responded to the CTB's resolution by signing an agreement (the "Three-Party Agreement") supporting the improvements chosen by the CTB and making other suggestions, such as building the Meadowcreek Parkway prior to the grade-separated interchanges on Route 29. The Three-Party Agreement also requested that Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization ("MPO") amend the Charlottesville Area Transportation Study ("CATS") to reflect the priorities set forth in the resolution. The MPO amended the CATS plan on February 18, 1992 as per the request made in the Three-Party Agreement.

On January 20, 1993, FHWA approved the final EIS for the Route 29 corridor study, which evaluated the alternatives considered and explained the reasoning behind the "combination of improvements" selected. The final EIS also included a final Section 4(f)/106 evaluation. On April 8, 1993, FHWA issued a record of decision ("ROD"), which selected a "combination of improvements to be implemented over a number of years in three phases to serve immediate, medium range and long-term transportation needs." To address the long-term needs, the ROD adopted the Alternative 10 bypass, as modified to eliminate the proposed interchanges at Route 654 and Route 743. As for medium range needs, the ROD selected the construction of the grade separated interchanges at Hydraulic Road, Rio Road, and Greenbrier Drive. Finally, the ROD stated that immediate needs would be met by construction of the Base Case improvements. The ROD also briefly described the Section 4(f) evaluation process and concluded that the alternative 10 bypass was "the only feasible and prudent alternative which avoids impacts to Section 4(f) properties."

After the Final EIS and ROD had been issued, it was proposed that the location of the southern terminus of the bypass be shifted from the west side to the east side of St. Anne's Belfield School and that the northern terminus be moved to the north side of the South Fork of the Rivanna River. The FHWA determined that an EA should be prepared to determine whether a supplemental EIS would be needed for the modifications. VDOT then solicited comments from various local, state, and federal entities on the proposed changes to the termini. In 1994, the FHWA approved a draft EA, and the document was later made available to the public. In March 1995, the CTB approved the changes to the bypass termini. Thereafter a final EA was completed, which identified no significant environmental impacts resulting from the modifications; therefore, FHWA issued a FONSI for the termini changes on July 6, 1995.

In October 1994, a public information meeting was held to discuss the design of the grade separated interchanges to be constructed as Phase II of the Route 29 project. At the meeting, many citizens, a great number of whom represented the business community, expressed opposition to the interchanges being built at all. In fact, of the 4,372 citizens who submitted comments during or after the meeting, 3,270 opposed the construction of any of the interchanges, and 2,297 of those individuals recommended that the western bypass be constructed in lieu of the interchanges. VDOT also received correspondence requesting that the interchange phase be abandoned in favor of proceeding with the construction of the bypass. In January 1995, the City of Charlottesville passed a resolution requesting that the interchange at Hydraulic Road be abandoned. In addition, those in favor of the interchanges also voiced their opinions on the subject. On February 16, 1995, the CTB passed a resolution terminating the design and development of the interchanges and assigning the funds allocated to the interchange study to Base Case improvements and bypass development.

In 1995 and 1996, several changes to the design of the Alternative 10 bypass were proposed, and VDOT and FHWA determined that these proposals made it necessary to reevaluate the previous environmental documents prepared in connection with the project. The process of compiling a written Reevaluation was begun in October 1996. After the commencement of the Reevaluation, several design and environmental issues arose. For instance, in 1997, the CTB instructed VDOT to modify the design of the interchange at the northern terminus of the bypass in order to avoid affecting Brook Hill, an historic property that was not previously taken into account. The CTB also ordered design changes to the connector road to the North Grounds of the University of Virginia. In addition, further study was conducted on the noise and archaeological impacts of an alteration to the bypass's design at Stillhouse Mountain. FHWA also entered into a formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") based on new information received concerning the James spinymussel, an endangered species. VDOT also continued to evaluate bypass design in light of concern over risk to the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir. In addition, new issues concerning the bypass project were raised in January 1998 when this lawsuit was filed. The Reevaluation examined these changes, and concluded that the changes and new issues resulted in no new significant impacts that would necessitate the completion of a new or supplemental EIS. FHWA approved and signed the Reevaluation on March 13, 2000.

In addition to the NEPA issues brought to light by the plaintiffs' lawsuit, the complaint also pointed out Section 4(f) concerns, specifically with regard to the Albemarle County School Complex (the "School Complex"). Subsequently, VDOT and FHWA conducted a new Section 4(f) evaluation, treating the entire School Complex as a Section 4(f) property. On March 13, 2000, FHWA approved the final Section 4(f) Evaluation, which concluded that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to using a portion of the property of the School Complex. On that same day, FHWA issued a new ROD that documented its decision to deviate from the original ROD by selecting the Base Case improvements (which had already been completed) and the Alternative 10 bypass.

[end of Factual and Procedural Background]

I am not a lawyer, but I'll do my best to summarize the history above and the points in the legal decision, in easily understandable language.

Three-Phase Plan for US-29 Improvements

The US-29 corridor study proposed a three-phase solution for the US-29 corridor north of Charlottesville. This would involve widening the existing US-29 in the first phase, building three grade separated urban interchanges on the existing US-29 in the second phase, and building a new location US-29 bypass to the west in the third phase. The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) on November 15, 1990, specifically selected a combination of alternatives to address short, medium, and long-range needs. During Phase 1, the CTB resolved to construct the widening of existing US-29, to reserve rights-of-way for the future construction of interchanges on existing US-29, at the junctions of Rio Road, Greenbrier Drive, and Hydraulic Road; and to approve the Alternative 10 western bypass corridor for future development, and to begin the process of securing rights of way for the bypass corridor. The CTB resolved that Phase 2 of the project would be the construction on existing US-29, of grade-separated interchanges at Rio Road, Greenbrier Drive, and Hydraulic Road, along with continued preservation of the right of way for the bypass. The CTB resolved that Phase 3 of the project would consist of the construction of the western bypass.

The first phase was constructed in sections from 1995 to 2000, and provided 6-lane widening on the first 0.5 mile of US-29 north of where the existing US-29/US-250 bypass interchanges with the non-limited access portion of US-29, and 8-lane widening on the remaining 4.6 miles of US-29 from Hydraulic Road to 1/4 mile north of the South Fork Rivanna River, including a replacement of the two US-29 bridges over the river. This cost $43.1 million for engineering, right-of-way, and construction. (Source: VDOT/CTB Six-Year Program FY2002-2007).

In October 1994, a public information meeting was held to discuss the design of the three grade separated urban interchanges to be constructed as Phase 2 of the Route 29 project. At the meeting, many citizens expressed opposition to the interchanges being built, and many of those individuals recommended that the western bypass be constructed in lieu of the interchanges. In January 1995, the City of Charlottesville passed a resolution requesting that the interchange at Hydraulic Road be abandoned. On February 16, 1995, the CTB passed a resolution terminating the design and development of the interchanges and assigning the funds allocated to the interchange study to Base Case improvements and bypass development. (source: court ruling).

Engineering and right-of-way acquisition for the Alternate 10 western bypass has continued since then.

Ruling by U.S. District Court on US-29 Bypass Project

On August 21, 2001, Judge Norman K. Moon, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, ruled on a lawsuit that had been filed against the proposed bypass 3-1/2 years before. Piedmont Environmental Council v. United States Department of Transportation, Case Number: 3:98CV0004, Issued: 08/21/2001, by Judge Norman K. Moon, United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

Contrary to the bogus claims of the plaintiff's news releases right after the above ruling, the judge didn't rule against the bypass in his legal opinion, nor was the ruling some sort of an indictment against the project development process. The defendant (United States Department of Transportation, et al.) won on 8 of the 9 counts, including winning on the core issues of the case. In the one count awarded to the plaintiffs (Sierra Club and Piedmont Environmental Council), the court ordered USDOT/FHWA and VDOT to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to augment the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which had been approved by USDOT/FHWA on January 20, 1993, and which due to design modifications at either end of the bypass, had been updated by a FEIS Reevaluation which was approved by USDOT/FHWA on March 13, 2000.

The court ordered SEIS is intended to provide further analysis to the north end of the bypass with respect to mitigation measures for the section of highway that comes within 500 feet of the Rivanna Reservoir, and with respect to further archeological analysis near where the bypass would connect into existing US-29.

The defendant could appeal the one count and perhaps win, but the word I got from someone who would know <smile!>, is that they see it as quicker timewise to conduct the SEIS rather than to appeal, and that after the SEIS is completed by mid 2002, that the defendant will have satisfied the requirements of the U.S. District Court. In other words, the defendants saw the court decision as a win that resolved the legal issues raised by the plaintiffs, and provided a way for the project to move forward after the SEIS is completed and approved by FHWA. Like I say, I think that FHWA and VDOT see this case as a win for the project.

As I said earlier, I am not a lawyer; but I do know enough about the law to provide an intelligent discussion, in simple language, about what the judge's ruling said.

In the ruling, from "III. Standard Of Review Under the APA, NEPA, and SECTION 4(F)", it said that the Court's review of the defendants' actions is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act, and that Court may overturn a decision made by the agencies (FHWA and VDOT in this case) only if the administrative record reveals that the decision was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." In making this determination, the Court must determine "whether the decision was based on a consideration of all the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment." Furthermore, the Court's "inquiry into the facts is to be searching and careful, the ultimate standard of review is a narrow one. The court is not empowered to substitute its judgment for that of the agency."

Regarding NEPA (the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act), the ruling describes NEPA as "NEPA declares a national policy in favor of the protection and promotion of environmental quality", and "A central component of NEPA's procedure is the requirement that federal agencies prepare an environmental impact statement ("EIS") with regard to "every recommendation or report on proposals for... major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment", and "The completion of an EIS does not, however, put an end to an agency's duties under NEPA, for the statute also requires that agencies take a "hard look at the environmental consequences of their proposed projects even after an EIS has been prepared."

With respect to a lawsuit such as this one, against a project administered by a public agency governed by NEPA law, the court's task was described thusly, "Thus, in reviewing the defendants' decisions in this case to determine whether NEPA's procedural requirements were observed, the Court must engage in a two-part inquiry. First the Court must look to the administrative record to determine whether the agency took a hard look at the environmental consequences of the project and the subsequent changes thereto. Then, if the agency took the requisite hard look, the Court must determine whether the agency's decision was arbitrary and capricious".

For an explanation of "Section 4(f) of NEPA", the judge wrote,"Section 4(f) forbids the Secretary of Transportation from approving a highway project that requires the "use of publicly owned land of a public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge of national, State or local significance, or land of an historic site of national, State or local significance," unless "(1) there is no prudent and feasible alternative to using that land; and (2) the program or project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the park, recreational area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or historic site resulting from the use."

In "IV. Discussion", the judge wrote, "The plaintiffs' complaint sets forth nine separate counts alleging various violations of NEPA and Section 4(f). The Court will address each of the counts in the plaintiffs' complaint in turn; however, before doing so, the Court must first address the issue of whether certain documents in the administrative record, as well as other documents submitted as supplements to that record, should be disregarded on account of their being mere "post hoc justifications" for the decisions made by the defendants."

There is a saying that there is old socialist trick, where you throw a plate of spaghetti against the wall, and then you point to the pieces which stick. That, in my opinion, is what the general strategy of the plaintiffs was with respect to this lawsuit. In other words, the goal isn't for "better government", the goal is pure obstructionism, to try to block a highway project that they don't like.

Here is a summary discussion of each count in the lawsuit, and the disposition of each count. For detailed discussion, see the court ruling URL that I provided earlier.

Count One: Alleged Deficiencies in the Final EIS
The plaintiffs (Sierra Club, PEC) contended in Count One of the complaint that NEPA was violated because the final EIS ("FEIS") for the 29 Corridor Project, which was approved in 1993 by the FHWA, is deficient in several respects: alleged insufficient discussion of alternatives, alleged failure to consider all of the direct environmental impacts of the Alternative 10 bypass, the indirect impacts of the bypass, and the cumulative impact of the bypass project.
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), on the grounds that a review by the court of the administrative record, reveals that the defendants (FHWA et al.) properly performed all those activities. The plaintiffs' major argument on the issue of the EIS's discussion of alternatives is that the EIS fails to consider a true "no build" alternative. This contention is completely without merit, however, for it was neither arbitrary nor capricious for the EIS to use the Base Case [US-29 widening north of town] improvements as the "no build" alternative for the US-29 corridor project because that project had already been studied and approved and was slated to go forward regardless of the other alternatives selected. Direct Impacts: Having conducted a thorough review of the FEIS and relevant portions of the administrative record, the court found that the defendants took the requisite hard look and considered all relevant factors with regard to the direct effects of the project alternatives on the surrounding environment. Indirect Impacts: After a review of the FEIS and relevant background studies in the administrative record, the court found that the defendants took a hard look at the issue and that the decision to include only limited discussion of the issue in the FEIS was not arbitrary or capricious. Cumulative Impacts: The court found that the defendants took a hard look at the issues addressed in Count One and did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner in compiling the FEIS.

Count Two: Alleged Deficiencies in the Final EA
The plaintiffs (SC, PEC) allege that the FHWA violated NEPA by arbitrarily and capriciously approving an Environmental Assessment ("EA") and issuing a finding of no significant impact ("FONSI") with regard to the modification of the termini of the Alternative 10 bypass. According to the plaintiffs, the termini modifications required a new or supplemental EIS. The plaintiffs contend that, because the modification of the bypass termini will have a significant impact on the environment, it was arbitrary and capricious for FHWA to issue a FONSI instead of conducting a supplemental EIS. The plaintiffs contended that the modifications in the termini of the Alternative 10 bypass will bring the road closer to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and cause the road to run on steeper slopes, thereby producing significant environmental impact by posing a risk of harm to the Reservoir and to public health, and that the bypass, as modified, would adversely affect protected Agricultural and Forestal District land.
Ruling: This is the only one of the nine counts where the judge ruled in favor in the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), and against the defendants (FHWA et al.). The judge ruled that "because a hard look was not taken with regard to the issues [the reservoir] addressed above, FHWA's decision not to supplement the EIS was arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with law". The judge ordered that no further work be undertaken on the bypass project by the agencies, until a supplemental EIS addressing the Reservoir and archaeological issue has been completed.

Count Three: Alleged Failure to Supplement EIS after Substantial Changes in Project
This count sets forth the plaintiffs' (SC, PEC) objections that are at the heart of this controversy. It is the plaintiffs' contention that the decision to "scrap" the sequencing of alternatives chosen in the FEIS by eliminating the grade separated urban interchanges (at existing US-29, and the junctions of Hydraulic Road, Greenbrier Road, and Rio Road) and proceeding directly to the bypass represents a substantial change in the proposed action that, requires an SEIS.
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), on the grounds that the FEIS evaluated the various bypass options, including Alternative 10, independently of the interchanges, and that the Reevaluation assessed the elimination and concluded that the change did not present any significant environmental impacts not already considered in the EIS.

Count Four: Alleged Failure to Analyze and Approve the Decision to Proceed with the Alternative 10 Bypass without the Interchanges
This count was dismissed, because the judge did not believe that the count offered any new allegations of NEPA violations by the defendants other than the failure to approve the change in the project's phasing in a new ROD.
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), for the above reason; and that with regard to the failure to approve the change with a ROD, that contention was moot when the ruling was issued, for FHWA had since issued a revised ROD approving the decision to go forward with the western bypass in the absence of the grade separated interchanges.

Count Five: Alleged Section 4(f) Violations with Regard to Schlesinger Farm and Westover
In this count, the plaintiffs (SC, PEC) contended that Section 4(f) had been violated because the Alternative 10 bypass will constructively use Schlesinger Farm and will directly and constructively use Westover, both of which are protected by Section 4(f).
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), on the grounds that the a thorough review of the relevant portions of the administrative record, revealed to the Court that a hard look was taken at the issues presented and that (1) the Secretary acted within the scope of his authority when deciding that the bypass did not use Schlesinger Farm and Westover, (2) the Secretary's actions were not arbitrary and capricious, and (3) the Secretary followed proper procedures.

NEPA Section 4(f) "direct use" and "constructive use" defined by the judge: A "use" occurs for Section 4(f) purposes when protected land "is permanently incorporated into a transportation facility" (direct use), or when "the project's proximity impacts are so severe that the protected activities, features, or attributes that qualify a resource for protection ... are substantially impaired" (constructive use). 23 C.F.R. 771.135(p). According to the regulations, "[s]ubstantial impairment occurs only when the protected activities, features, or attributes of the resource are substantially diminished."

Counts Six and Seven: Alleged Section 4(f) Violations with Regard to the Albemarle School Complex
In these counts, the plaintiffs (SC, PEC) contended that Section 4(f) had been violated because the Alternative 10 bypass will use, directly and constructively, playgrounds and running trails on the Albemarle County School Complex.
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC) on both counts, on the grounds that on the Albemarle County School Complex, that while the Alternative 10 bypass will directly use the "acquisition of approximately 15.17 acres of wooded land from the northern edge of the property", that the defendant (FHWA et al.) acted within the scope of their authority, came to a conclusion that was not arbitrary or capricious, and followed all proper procedures; and that on the Agnor-Hurt School, that the bypass will not take any portion of the Agnor-Hurt property, that the defendants (FHWA et al.) took a hard look at the impacts of the bypass on Agnor-Hurt and concluded in a manner that was neither arbitrary nor capricious that no constructive use would occur.

Count Eight: Reevaluation as a "Post Hoc Rationalization"
This count alleged that NEPA has been violated by FHWA's decision to issue the Reevaluation instead of a new or supplemental EIS.
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), on the grounds that the Reevaluation was not a post hoc justification for a decision already made by FHWA, and that on the issue with regard to the impacts of the bypass on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, the plaintiffs' argument is moot because judgment has already been granted to the plaintiffs in Count Two on that ground.

Count Nine: Alleged Failure of the Final EIS to Address Cumulative Impacts and Connected Actions
The plaintiffs (SC, PEC) argue that the defendants (FHWA et al.) violated NEPA by failing to consider the following cumulative or connected projects: (1) the proposed widening of Route 29 North from the South Fork of the Rivanna River to Airport Road, (2) proposed frontage or service roads that would run parallel to the widened Route 29 between the South Fork of the Rivanna River and Airport Road, (3) the widening and replacement of the north and southbound bridges spanning the South Fork of the Rivanna River on Route 29 in Albemarle County, and (4) other modifications to the Route 29 Corridor arising from an ongoing study by VDOT of the entire Route 29 Corridor from the North Carolina line to Warrenton.
Ruling: Against the plaintiffs (SC, PEC), on the grounds that based on its review of the administrative record, the Court concluded that the defendants took a hard look at the cumulative and connected impacts involved with the bypass project within the appropriate bounds of the analysis area. Also, that none of the projects mentioned by the plaintiff are sufficiently connected to the US-29 Bypass project discussed in the FEIS to warrant their inclusion in that document under NEPA law. Also, as to the cumulative effect of the various projects, the Court believed that the administrative record showed that the defendants (FHWA et al.) did adequately assess the incremental impact of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions in assessing the bypass.

This U.S. District Court decision was appealed by the plaintiffs to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. The word I have is that the defendants (FHWA et al.) won't appeal the one count that they lost (the SEIS should be completed by early 2003, thus fulfilling that requirement). From my own observation, Judge Moon's decision looks quite thorough, and it very carefully addresses the complaint according to the pertinent NEPA federal law.

Ruling by U. S. Court of Appeals on US-29 Bypass Project

On October 19, 2001, the plaintiffs (PEC and Sierra Club) appealed the August 21, 2001, ruling of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (which is located in downtown Richmond, Virginia). On February 7, 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued the ruling 012286.U ... 02/07/03 Piedmont Environ v. US Dept of Transport.

On February 8, 2003, the Richmond Times-Dispatch had an article, " Court affirms U.S. 29 ruling". Quote follows (blue text):
The federal appeals court in Richmond yesterday affirmed the judge who dismissed most of an environmentalists' lawsuit challenging the proposed U.S. 29 bypass project at Charlottesville. The Piedmont Environmental Council and the Sierra Club sued in January 1998 to block construction of the controversial road, a 6.2-mile stretch meant to help ease traffic crowding. The suit against federal and state transportation agencies and officials alleged the project was illegal and environmentally harmful, among other claims.

In August 2001, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon approved additional studies of the effects of the project that were demanded by the two groups. But he ruled in favor of the project on eight of nine counts in the lawsuit, saying the defendants had complied with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws in approving the plans. The PEC and the Sierra Club appealed Moon's judgment on the eight counts to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In their answer to that appeal, the defendants said Moon's decision was correct and also claimed that the two groups lacked legal standing to sue in the first place.

Yesterday a three-judge panel filed an opinion in the case, saying that the groups did have standing on all but one of the appealed counts. But the panel also ruled that Moon's decision on the merits of the counts was correct. Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, said the appeals court opinion answers "most of the issues we are still dealing with on the project." He said two studies demanded by the groups are nearing completion. One is on the environmental effect the road would have on the Rivanna reservoir and the other is on archaeological concerns at the northern end of the planned project.

The appellate court ruling describes the lawsuit (blue text):
Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and the Sierra Club, the plaintiffs, appeal the August 21, 2001, order of the district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of the  defendants on eight of the nine counts alleged by PEC and the Sierra Club in their complaint. PEC and the Sierra Club alleged that the actions of the defendants relating to construction of a bypass west of Route 29 in Charlottesville, Virginia violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, (Section 4(f)), 49 U.S.C. 303; 23 U.S.C. 138. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs on Count Two of their complaint, and granted summary judgment in their favor on that count. The defendants did not appeal that ruling and that count is not before the court. As to the remaining counts, PEC and the Sierra Club contend that the district court erred in its conclusion that the defendants complied with the requirements of NEPA and Section 4(f). The defendants ask this court to affirm the order of the district court. Additionally, the defendants assert that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring these challenges. For the reasons stated below, we affirm in part and remand in part with directions to dismiss.

The appellate court ruling concludes with why it dismissed the plaintiffs appeal (blue text):
Having resolved the question of standing, we next address the merits of the appeal on Counts One, Three, Four, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine. We have carefully reviewed the extensive record, and as to those counts, we affirm based on the reasoning of the district court. The agency followed all proper procedures as required by NEPA and Section 4(f). The Federal Highway Administration took a "hard look" at the environmental consequences of the various alternatives, followed all proper procedures, and its decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Likewise, the agency acted within the scope of its authority with respect to the Section 4(f) property at the school complex, its decision was not arbitrary and capricious, and all proper procedures were followed. We therefore affirm the district courts grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Counts One, Three, Four, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine, and we remand with instructions  for the district court to dismiss Count Five.

The plaintiffs could possibly appeal the appellate court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court rarely takes a case like this involving a lawsuit against a project of a transportation public agency.

The obstructionist RE/T groups that litigated against the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal against the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the project defendants, but the Supreme Court refused. The Washington Post had an article on October 3, 2000, "Congress Pledges More for Wilson Bridge". Excerpt (blue text):
Yesterday the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the lawsuit appeal by the plaintiffs against the appellate court decision last December in favor of the current project, overturning a district court ruling against the project.

So, I'm really not concerned much about the Supreme Court getting involved in the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. This should be the end of the nuisance litigation from the
RE/T groups.

VDOT as of 2003 had acquired 100% of the right-of-way for the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass project. Funding is a problem for the construction, and hopefully things will improve there in the near future, or perhaps some private company will offer to fund it through PPTA (Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act), with the investment to be recouped by tolls.

The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) required by the U.S. District Court's August 21, 2001 decision, was completed and approved by FHWA on May 29, 2003. This means that VDOT has a completed NEPA process and has fulfilled all the requirements of the U.S. District Court. The legal obstacles to construction of the highway, have been dissolved.

JLARC Review of the Highway Location Process

JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) of the Virginia General Assembly), is what its name says it is, an audit and review commission of the General Assembly (state legislature). Most people here in Virginia "pronounce" it as "Jay-Lark". JLARC provides independent and normally non-partisan audit/review oversight of state agencies and various other functions of state government. Since it is under the General Assembly, it is separate from the chain of command (with the Governor as head) of the line state agencies. So JLARC regularly perform audits and reviews of functional aspects of VDOT and other state agencies.

JLARC's study Review of the Highway Location Process was commissioned by Study Mandate, House Joint Resolution No. 222, 1996 Session, Requesting the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the highway location process. Excerpt of resolution, from the below referenced report (blue text):

RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission be directed to study the highway location process, including conformity with federal environmental laws, regulations, policies, and transportation requirements relative to location, interconnections, and financing requirements. The Commission shall examine the process employed by the Transportation Board and the Virginia Department of Transportation to determine whether it results in location decisions which (i) make the most efficient use of transportation funding; (ii) implement applicable environmental protection policies under federal and state laws and regulations; (iii) are efficient as a matter of transportation policy; (iv) involve minimal disruption to private property enjoyment and value; (v) are responsive to public input; and (vi) accommodate local needs. Further, the Commission shall examine whether the current location process is too cumbersome and time-consuming. In its review, the Commission may consider examples in which the process has worked in the past, and location decisions for projects in which the location and design processes have been completed and construction contracts awarded. The Commission's recommendations shall not reverse any design, location, or construction decision previously made by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The Commission may make recommendations for changes to current law, regulations, or policy designed to expedite the delivery of projects. The Commission shall complete its work in time to submit its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the 1998 Session of the General Assembly as provided in the procedures of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems for the processing of legislative documents.

The JLARC audit/review looked in-depth at 20 different major highway projects which are in various stages of planning and preliminary engineering, and in-depth at VDOT's project development process and highway location process. The report was completed in January 1998, and I've posted the hyperlink to the full report.

The JLARC report overall gave VDOT a good evaluation of its highway location process, although it did cite specific findings with respect to the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass and the Western Transportation Corridor (WTC), findings which had specific process improvement recommendations.

In the Preface (excerpt in blue text):
House Joint Resolution 222 (1996) directed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to review the highway location process used by the Virginia Department of Transportation to select corridors for new road locations in Virginia. The highway location process is used to select one alternative location for a highway among several, based on engineering and human resource impacts. The process is complex and is sometimes controversial, because of the multiple and often conflicting interests involved.

The study found that the highway location process appears to work relatively well in Virginia. Based on a detailed review of 20 highway location projects, it appears all entities with significant interests in a highway's location are provided the opportunity to participate in and impact the process. Further, the process generally leads to reasonable decisions about highway locations.

In the Highway Location Process Report Summary, (excerpt in blue text):

Highway Location Process Works Relatively Well

The highway location process involves numerous elements and many participants. For major new location projects, the process is driven by federal environmental requirements. Environmental provisions require VDOT to examine all reasonable and prudent alternatives for new roads and to analyze in detail the impacts of these alternatives on natural and historical resources prior to selecting an alternative. Another major element of the location process is the public involvement process which includes public information meetings and location public hearings to receive public input. The process culminates in the selection of a corridor for a new road by the Commonwealth Transportation Board based on the recommendation of VDOT staff.

The highway location process appears to work relatively well in Virginia. Based on the JLARC staff review, it appears that most location decisions are reasonable decisions. In addition, one of the primary strengths of the process appears to be that all entities with significant interests in it have the opportunity to participate in the process and to impact it. VDOT works closely with affected local governments during the location process and tries to accommodate their concerns and needs. Individuals as well as interested citizens groups are also given the opportunity to provide input through various means. Moreover, federal and State resource agencies play an integral role in the location process through the environmental review process established pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act.

In the main report Review of the Highway Location Process, (excerpt in blue text):

Location Process Works Relatively Well (p. 23)

Based on JLARC's detailed review of 20 major highway projects, the process appears to work relatively well. Location decisions appear to be based primarily on the technical analysis. In addition, involvement in the process by the resource agencies, local governments, and the public serves to ensure that environmental laws and regulations are complied with, local needs are accommodated, and public input is received. In addition, VDOT has developed an early acquisition process that appears to reduce the adverse impacts of the location process for some property owners. Finally, while concerns have been raised that the process is cumbersome or time-consuming, the process appears to be fairly efficient given the requirements and goals of the process.

The JLARC report went on to list 10 major conclusions about the highway location process from an overall standpoint, all of which were positive:
Location Decisions Generally Supported by Professional Analysis
Staff Location Recommendations Appear to Be Reasonable
CTB Decisions Usually Follow Staff Recommendations
Location Decisions Generally Implement Environmental Regulations and Policies
VDOT and CTB Try to Accommodate Local Needs
VDOT Works Closely with Local Governments
CTB Tries to Accommodate Local Government
VDOT Is Responsive to the Public in Consideration of Alternatives
VDOT Provides Relief to Those Most Adversely Impacted
Location Process Appears to Be Reasonably Efficient, Given Constraints

So the overall highway location process works well, according to JLARC's audit/review of the process. The report did spend considerable time discussing concerns about the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass and the Western Transportation Corridor, and I will discuss the US-29 issues in this article. The paper report document also has the agency responses, which you may note are not included in the electronic version linked above. In Appendix C - Agency Responses, it says, "Agency responses are not included in this electronic version". It is obviously important to see what VDOT and the Secretary of Transportation had to say in response to JLARC's findings, so I will, at least for US-29, post those responses in my article.

You can get a free paper copy of the report from JLARC, if you ask them for it. It has the full 98-page document, comprising the JLARC portion which is reproduced in full on the JLARC website, plus the agency responses which are not in the on-line report. I would encourage you to get the full report so that you can read the whole thing.

I believe that I must provide refutation to the claims of a few growth control advocacy groups (SC, PEC, SELC), with reference to this JLARC report. I've seen a few opinion pieces by them about this report, including a "sprawl" brochure from the Sierra Club from several years ago, which basically spinmeistered the interpretation of report to say that it was a scathing criticism of VDOT's highway location process. That is a very disingenuous interpretation, to say the least. I've done some auditing work myself professionally, and briefly, the way that auditing works, is that the auditors conduct the audit, and then they produce a report that may have FINDINGS. The conclusion may say, "there are no findings", if that is the case; or if there are findings, then the report will list them one by one. I haven't worked for JLARC, but the basic auditing methodology is still the same whether it is a agency internal audit, a legislative commission audit of an agency, or an audit in the private sector. These growth control advocacy groups essentially ignored the broadly positive evaluation that JLARC gave to VDOT's highway location process, and took the very specific findings and tried to claim that those findings were endemic to the whole agency process. Nonsense. That is not how auditing works. Auditing focuses on specific areas of an organization, and it provides a list of specific findings of any area where organizational practices are in deviation from recognized agency policies, standards and procedures. The initiating General Assembly resolution that began this review/audit in 1996, is quoted near the top of the section "JLARC Review of the Highway Location Process" above in this article, and you can see that the scope and breadth of this review/audit was quite broad and comprehensive. If JLARC had concerns about any other projects, then they would have listed those concerns, listing the specific findings.

So the JLARC report findings are there for everyone to see, and as of April 2002 as I write this, there have been no further JLARC reviews of VDOT's highway location process.

State and Regional Interest in the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass

The JLARC report discussed the state government interest and the Danville and Lynchburg interest in this project. The report discussed how state transportation officials since the mid-1970s, have expressed the need for a bypass around Charlottesville. During the development of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act legislation (ISTEA of 1991, the federal 7-year transportation bill), Virginia, along with North Carolina, worked successfully to have US-29 designated as a "Highway of National Significance." This designation means that the U.S. Congress considers the US-29 corridor to be an important corridor that is not adequately served by the Interstate Highway System, and therefore, it requires further highway development to serve the travel and economic development needs of the region. State transportation officials view US-29 as a interregional highway that serves important regional transportation interests along the whole corridor from I-40/I-85 at Greensboro, N.C., to I-66 at Gainesville, Virginia.

From the The National Transportation Library, U.S. DOT, Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, High Priority Corridors on National Highway System, excerpt (blue text):
(17) Route 29 Corridor from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the District of Columbia.

Cities and towns along US-29 have expressed a strong interest in the development of a bypass around Charlottesville. Two cities that have expressed especially strong support for the bypass, are Danville and Lynchburg. Both cities believe that a bypass is needed so that their citizens traveling to and from points north of Charlottesville can bypass the area. In addition, they contend that a bypass is needed so that commercial trucks traveling through the Charlottesville area can do so unimpeded. They further assert that the bypass is needed to serve the economic development needs in the region.

In 2002, there have been multiple newspaper articles in the Danville and Lynchburg newspapers (Danville Register Bee, see "Bypass battle flares up"; and Lynchburg News & Advance, see "Lawmakers push for Charlottesville bypass"), that cited local elected officials, local members of the General Assembly, and local business organizations, who are openly complaining about the lack of progress on the part of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, toward building the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass extension, to remove what they see as a major impediment toward upgrading the US-29 corridor through Virginia. The Danville and Lynchburg areas are moving forward and are building their US-29 bypasses, and they want to see the Charlottesville area do likewise.

The Danville Register Bee had an article on February 14, 2003, Be it resolved ... Excerpts follow (blue text):
State Sen. Charles Hawkins' resolution to push the state to improve U.S. 29 is a step in the right direction in this long, important and tough fight. Danville and Lynchburg have long been frustrated by the protracted fight over the U.S. 29 Charlottesville bypass. Travelers, businessmen, economic developers and political leaders from the two cities have long looked north hoping that some kind of bypass could be built to properly accommodate through traffic. The Charlottesville bypass is a big, important and controversial project and after years of planning, and debate, the issue still hasn't been resolved. State Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham, has been fighting for U.S. 29 improvements since his days as a state delegate. "It just doesn't seem to end," Hawkins said of the fight for the Charlottesville bypass.

Most importantly, Hawkins' resolution doesn't do anything to change the hearts and minds of Charlottesville-area residents who fight the bypass with little or no regard or concern for how that fight affects the Dan River Region. Unfortunately for our community, too many people north of here have closed their minds on the issue of improving U.S. 29. But ignoring that road's development is a luxury we can't afford. We support every initiative to upgrade U.S. 29 because as that road improves, so does its value to our economic development efforts. It does little good to build modern bypasses around Danville and Lynchburg only to leave a traffic bottleneck around Charlottesville.

So indeed, there are statewide issues with respect to the need for the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass extension.

Commonwealth Transportation Board

Excerpt from JLARC report follows in blue text:

Commonwealth Transportation Board

Another important participant in the highway location process is the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The Board is comprised of 16 members. Fourteen are appointed by the governor to serve four-year terms. The other two members are the Secretary of Transportation, who serves as the chairperson, and the Commissioner of VDOT, who serves as the vice chairperson. One member is appointed from each of the nine VDOT construction districts. In addition, the governor may appoint five at-large members. The CTB has the authority and responsibility to make all location decisions.

CTB Deletes Urban Interchanges and Goes Forward with Bypass

The JLARC report documented the CTB decision to delete the 3 proposed urban interchanges thusly (Excerpt from page 40 and 41 follows in blue text):

CTB Withdraws Its Support for the Grade-Separated Interchanges

In January of 1995, the CTB conducted a workshop at which the interchanges were discussed. The following month, the CTB voted to withdraw support for the design and construction of the interchanges. The CTB cited the following reasons for withdrawing its support in the resolution:
(1) citizen comments against the interchanges at the citizen's information meeting to discuss the design,
(2) comments made by the City of Charlottesville, University of Virginia, and Greene County,
(3) the cost of the interchanges which were estimated to be between $12 and $15 million each,
(4) construction of the interchanges would result in the destruction of more than 60 percent of the widening recently completed on Route 29,
(5) construction of the interchanges would inconvenience motorists on Route 29 for two years, and
(6) the interchanges would only result in a minimal level of improvement in the "ultimate level of service."

CTB Resolves to Move Ahead with the Route 29 Bypass

The CTB's February 1995 resolution supported the continuation of the other improvements to Route 29 referenced in the 1990 and 1991 resolutions, including construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway, and the development of the Route 29 Bypass. In addition, the resolution rescinded the conditions of the earlier resolutions which conditioned the bypass on the establishment of a justified traffic need. The 1995 resolution stated, "the phasing of construction for the Route 29 bypass based on increases in traffic and economic condition [shall] be rescinded and that the Department continue the design of the Route 29 (Alternative 10) Bypass." The resolution also directed that funds set aside for the interchanges be redirected to the widening and bypass projects.

JLARC Findings and Agency Responses

The JLARC report did have some findings with respect to the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass project.

Excerpt (blue text):

Route 29 in Charlottesville Raises Some Concerns

While the highway location process appears to work relatively well in most instances, JLARC staff's review of the location process used for improvements to Route 29 in the Charlottesville area raises some concerns about the process in that case. The issue of how to address traffic problems on Route 29 has been extremely controversial. In recent years, there have been strong divisions among various local citizen groups and between local governments in the Charlottesville area regarding how to resolve transportation needs on Route 29. In addition, there has been tension between local transportation interests and regional and State interests which has further complicated the situation.

III. Case Study: U.S. Route 29 in Charlottesville

While JLARC's review of numerous highway projects found that VDOT followed a relatively systematic location process for most projects, the review of the location process used for improvements to Route 29 in the Charlottesville area raises some concerns about the process in that case. The process for this project appears to have deviated from the typical location process used by VDOT. Review of this project also raises broader concerns about aspects of the location process in general.

Location Process Should Apply to Actions to Rescind Prior CTB Decisions (p. 49)

One of the concerns raised by the experience of the Route 29 project is the difference between the process used to approve location decisions and the process to rescind previous CTB location decisions. While the CTB may only approve a location for a new road project after an extensive process, the CTB may act to rescind a prior location decision of the Board merely upon a vote of the CTB.

Recommendation (1). The General Assembly may wish to consider amending 33.1-18 of the Code of Virginia to require that the Commonwealth Transportation Board provide the opportunity for a public hearing prior to any decision to rescind or significantly modify a previous location decision of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

This recommendation is in reference to the CTB canceling the 3 urban interchanges planned for existing US-29 north of Charlottesville. See the Agency Response to JLARC report section below for the agency response. The JLARC report gave this reason as to why the CTB canceled the interchanges. (Excerpt follows in blue text):

Approximately 1,100 citizens attended the public information meeting for the interchanges. In conjunction with the meeting, VDOT received 1,698 comments and 1,572 petition signatures expressing opposition to the interchanges. In addition, VDOT received 989 comments and 790 petition signatures in support of the interchanges. The primary reasons given for opposing the interchanges were: (1) the access problems that would be created; and (2) the cost of construction, because VDOT would be required to tear up a large portion of the newly completed widening work.

The second JLARC recommendation is in reference to a CTB member who might possibly have benefited from the US-29 decision.

CTB Members Should Not Be Permitted to Participate in Location Decisions Which Directly Impact their Personal Interests

Another concern with the current process is that members of the CTB are not precluded from participating in decisions that impact their own personal interests, as long they disclose their interest. Under Virginia's current conflict of interest statute, an "officer" of the State, which would include CTB members, may participate in a transaction in which they have a personal interest if: (1) they are the member of a business, profession or group which is affected by the transaction; or (2) the transaction affects the public generally. The current statute provides fairly wide latitude for CTB members to participate in location decisions in which they have a personal interest as long as they disclose their interest.

Recommendation (2). The General Assembly may wish to amend 2.1 -639.11 of the Code of Virginia to require that any member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board who has a personal interest in a location decision or any other highway project or contract decision before the Board recuse himself from participating in the decision.

See the Agency Response to JLARC report section below for the agency response.

The third JLARC recommendation is in reference citizen access to the CTB regarding a major location decision. (Excerpt follows in blue text):

More Access to CTB Should Be Provided under Certain Circumstances

Under the current location process, there is no opportunity for anyone to present their viewpoint directly to the full CTB regarding a major location decision. Individual CTB members may attend location public hearings for projects in the districts that they represent, but rarely do members attend hearings outside of the districts in which they reside. Therefore, local government officials, citizen groups, and individual citizens do not have the opportunity to address the Commonwealth Transportation Board on location decisions that impact them.

Recommendation (3). The Commonwealth Transportation Board should provide the opportunity for local governing bodies to directly address the board regarding major road projects in those cases in which: (1) there is disagreement between the location alternative recommended by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the alternative preferred by a locality that will be directly impacted, or (2) more than one locality will be directly impacted by a location decision, and there is some disagreement between the localities regarding the preferred location alternative.

See the Agency Response to JLARC report section below for the agency response.

Agency Response to JLARC report

Excerpts from letter to Mr. Philip Leone, Director, Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, from Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Transportation, by David R. Gehr, Commissioner (agency head), December 4, 1997. Verbatim copy from the above referenced JLARC report (paper version), of the three JLARC recommendations that pertain to the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass, and the VDOT responses to them (excerpt of first 1/3 of letter follows in standard blue text, and green text for agency response):

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the exposure draft of the report entitled Review of the Highway Location Process in Virginia. It is apparent that a large amount of research and work went into this study. We have completed a thorough review of the draft and present our response in two parts.

The first part, which follows, is the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) comment and response to each of the report's recommendations. The second part is attached as an addendum. The addendum provides pertinent information relevant to specific sections of the draft for consideration.

Recommendation (1): The General Assembly may wish to consider amending Section 33.1-18 of the Code of Virginia to require that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) provide an opportunity for a public hearing prior to any decision to rescind or significantly modify a previous location decision of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Response: The action to rescind prior location decisions does not often occur. In the case of the Route 29 Bypass project, the decision was not to change or modify the previously approved location. The decision was to modify the sequence in which improvements were to be developed. Phasing the construction aspects of project development is not a part of the public involvement process. The "three party agreement", which stated support by the Charlottesville and Albemarle jurisdictions, for the sequencing of improvements for the Route 29 Corridor was not subject to the public involvement process. The CTB makes location and design decisions and does not determine right of way or construction timing. Other regulations and laws affect these construction aspects of project development.

There were several issues outside the control of the CTB which contributed to this decision. The City of Charlottesville withdrew its support for the interchange at Hydraulic Road, which is in the city. This decision was certainly beyond the control of the CTB. The concern of the local businesses and citizens within the existing corridor to access to businesses and residential areas was also a major concern.

The Department agrees that if there is a need to rescind or change the location that was previously approved by the CTB, then another public hearing or citizen information meeting could be held to inform citizens of this impending action. Any design changes or modifications, which take place within the approved corridor, would be presented at the design public hearing held later in the process.

Recommendation (2): The General Assembly may wish to amend Section 2.1-639.11 of the Code of Virginia to require that any member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board who has a personal interest in a location decision or any other decision before the Board recuse himself from participating in the decision.

Response: A representative of the Attorney General's Office briefs each CTB member on conflict of interest statutes and issues. We will ensure that these briefings are conducted on a regular basis. The current statute allows CTB members to participate in location and design decisions in which they have a personal interest as long as they disclose their interest prior to making their vote. This at times could present the perception of improper influence on the decision, especially if there is already public concern surrounding the integrity of the process and the Department. The recommendation as written, however, could potentially affect every decision made by the CTB. For example, when the CTB adopts the Six-Year Improvement program there is a possibility that every member of the CTB would have to recuse himself or herself because of a conflict with one specific project out of the hundreds that are included. This could also apply to votes on budget items.

It would appear that the above recommendation should also include the Boards of Supervisors and the MPO because they are also integral participants in the decision.

Recommendation (3): The Commonwealth Transportation Board should provide the opportunity for local governing bodies to directly address the board in those cases in which (1) there is disagreement between the location alternative recommended by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the alternative preferred by the locality that will be directly impacted, or (2) more than one locality will be directly impacted by the location decision, and there is some disagreement between the localities regarding the preferred location alternative.

Response: The Department and the members of the CTB provide local governing bodies the same opportunities it provides to the public in addressing comments and recommendations on location decisions. The localities have opportunities at the formal public hearings, as well as the ability to meet with their respective CTB member, to provide input into the process. Nothing precludes the localities from addressing any or all of the CTB members individually. Localities also have the opportunity to provide resolutions based on their Board or Council recommendations. Individuals or localities may address the full CTB if the following three circumstances are met: (1) The issue they wish to discuss must be an agenda item of the CTB meeting (2) The information must be new information, which has not previously been available for presentation, and (3) The issue they wish to discuss has not been through the public hearing process and there has not been an opportunity for public comment.

It is not the recommendation of the Department that this policy be changed. Localities have more than adequate opportunity to provide comments and recommendations, and if new information does arise, the current policy allows the CTB to hear this information prior to making their decision.

[end of excerpts from letter to JLARC]

Excerpts from letter to Mr. Philip Leone, Director, Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, from Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Transportation, by Robert E. Martinez, Secretary of Transportation, December 4, 1997. Verbatim copy from the above referenced JLARC report (paper version), of the three JLARC recommendations that pertain to the US-29 Charlottesville Bypass, and the VDOT responses to them (excerpt of first 1/2 of letter follows in green text):

VDOT Commissioner David Gehr has just provided me with a copy of the comments he and his staff prepared in response to the JLARC study, "Review of the Highway Location Process in Virginia. With this letter, I would like officially to concur with all of the comments stated in the Commissioner's letter, including his addendum. Kindly accept the following as reflecting some nuances in emphasis from my own perspective.

Regarding Recommendation (1) in the report, as does Commission Gehr, I also agree that in those instances when the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) considers rescinding or significantly modifying a previous location decision, it should be subjected to a public hearing or public involvement process. I agree that this would be appropriate. However, in my mind, it is very important to note that the example used to buttress this recommendation -- the action taken by the CTB on the grade-separated interchanges -- did not constitute a change in a location decision. In effect, the major complaint lodged against that action was that it contravened the so-called Three Party Agreement (Albemarle County, City of Charlottesville and University of Virginia) which pertained to the sequencing of the three separate projects (the widening of existing Route 29, the three grade-separated interchanges, and the bypass). That so-called Three Party Agreement itself had not been subjected to a public involvement process. That point must not be lost.

Separately, as correctly pointed out in the JLARC report, I do consider it very relevant that the City of Charlottesville had, in fact, already withdrawn its approval for the Hydraulic Road interchange prior to the action taken by the CTB. I believe that action had an impact in the CTB's deliberations.

Regarding Recommendation (2), as a general comment, I find it unfortunate that several people on different sides of the Charlottesville Bypass issue have been subjected to unfair attacks on their character due to honest differences of opinion regarding this controversial project. As regards the member of the CTB who is the subject of JLARC scrutiny in this instance, it would have been nice had he been afforded some means of providing input to draft language on this matter to JLARC given that he will, undoubtedly, be subjected to intense media questioning immediately upon release of a report he has not seen. JLARC may wish to consider how such individuals might be provided with some appropriate advance notice in future studies.

Regarding Recommendation (3), I again concur completely with Commissioner Gehr. As Chairman of the CTB, I add that unless written extremely narrowly any opening up of the existing guidelines would explode the CTB's ability to move the highway and transit program overall given the huge number of approvals required monthly. Also, remember that the entire CTB sits through eleven full public hearings per year during the allocation season. At that time, all members of the public can address the Board directly, and hundreds avail themselves of this opportunity annually.

You may wish to point out in the opening of the report, that the Chairman and Vice Chairman do not vote at the CTB except in instances of a tie vote. If there is a tie, the Chairman casts the deciding vote. I believe this has happened only once during my four-year tenure. If there is a tie, the Chairman is absent and the Vice Chair is the acting Chair, then he casts the deciding vote.

I'm not certain where the comment is most appropriate, but it should be clear that the decisions on the Charlottesville Bypass have not resulted from any lack of public participation or involvement, from any lack of opportunities for participation or involvement, or from insufficient deliberation -- very careful deliberation -- by members of the CTB. Unfortunately, the resulting decision is not universally accepted, but it was not due to those factors.

Although mentioned in passing, on the issue of the Charlottesville Bypass, I don't believe the Report adequately addresses the issues related to concerns outside the immediate Charlottesville-Albemarle region regarding the state-wide significance of the project. In particular, JLARC should have visited and more carefully documented comments from community leaders in Lynchburg and Danville.

Another clarification is necessary in the Report in the section beginning on page 68, "Project Remains Controversial." The local MPO did not "remove the bypass project from their Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)" as there stated. The MPO has failed this year to include the Bypass for construction. Nonetheless, the Bypass remains in the TIP, as it has in prior years, for preliminary engineering and right-of-way acquisition. Significantly, VDOT is not currently in the construction phase, but only at right-of-way acquisition.

[end of excerpts from letter to JLARC]

US-29 Interstate Highway

There has been considerable discussion for some years about building an Interstate highway in the US-29 corridor, from I-40/I-85 at Greensboro, North Carolina, all the way to where US-29 connects to I-66 at Gainesville, Virginia. I would say that the likelyhood is good that this will eventually happen. There are active plans now for extended limited access bypasses for US-29 in the Lynchburg area and in the Charlottesville area, and the 20-mile-long US-29 Lynchburg-Madison Heights Bypass is well under construction, and the final phase of the US-29 Danville Bypass (parallel roadway on the northeast quadrant) is now under construction.

There were a number of newspaper articles about the US-29 Interstate, from about 1985 until the early 1990s, and it seems as if it has been pretty much out of the news since the expensive I-81 widening has been in planning stages since the mid 1990s.

If US-29 from I-40 at Greensboro to I-66 at Gainesville doesn't become an Interstate soon, at least it will see various major improvements including new bypasses, more interchanges at major junctions, more sections with paved shoulders, more long right-turn lanes and left-turn lanes, and some selected alignment improvements. In other words, lots of improvements can be accomplished that will expand capacity and enhance safety and ease of travel for the motorist, at a much lower cost than building a new Interstate. The new location bypasses could be utilized for a future Interstate, also. The section of US-29 from I-40 at Greensboro to I-66 at Gainesville, is a Principal Arterial on the National Highway System, which just a little bit lower in importance (and FHWA funding priority and qualification) than rural Interstate.

From the The National Transportation Library, U.S. DOT, Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, High Priority Corridors on National Highway System, excerpt (blue text):
(17) Route 29 Corridor from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the District of Columbia.

Truck Toll Lane Proposal for I-81 and Impact on US-29

One of my pet project ideas has been for private investors to finance the planned expensive widening of I-81 in Virginia with private investment financing, with tolls to recoup the investment. In January 2002, under PPTA (Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995), a consortium filed an unsolicited project proposal to build this project, with VDOT. The billions of dollars in costs would be financed through bonds and retired through tolls assessed electronically on large trucks, and the project wouldn't utilize state or federal tax funds. The PPTA Evaluation Panel is examining this proposal.

See my article "Interstate 81 and Interstate 77" for more information about the truck toll lane proposal for I-81, with cites from the newspapers Winchester Star and Roanoke Times. Most of my discussion and evaluation of the I-81 truck toll lane proposal is on that article.

In my opinion, the truckers will grumble some if the truck toll lanes are built on I-81, but with the enormously better traffic service, comfort and speed on I-81, very few (if any) truckers will take alternate non-Interstate routes. Time for a trucker is money, and the $30 to $40 toll that has been discussed for the 325 miles of I-81 truck lanes, will be seen as a minor cost compared to the benefits of I-81 and the costs of lost time and lower fuel mileage on alternate routes.

A few speakers at the US-29 public hearing in 2002, expressed fears that the I-81 truck toll lane project might divert traffic to the US-29 corridor, and that improving US-29 at Charlottesville might facilitate even more of such a diversion.

My "surmise" at this point (pending official traffic and origin/ destination studies) is that the I-81 truck toll lane concept wouldn't impact the US-29 corridor in a significant way. Interstate I-81 (in conjunction with I-40, I-66, I-70, I-76, I-78, I-84, and I-88) provides an ideal Interstate bypass corridor for traffic between the Northeast major metropolitan areas, and the western Deep South states and the southwest states. Use of US-29 to bypass I-81 in Virginia, involves more distance if you return back to I-81, and about the same distance if you are willing to enter/leave the Northeast Corridor at D.C. rather than bypass the Northeast metro areas that you are not going to or leaving. US-29 is slower than a rural Interstate, with various traffic lights and speed zones on US-29. If the truck roadways are fully separated from the car roadways, the trucks will have a congestion-free superhighway to themselves for 325 miles through Virginia, and may even get a higher speed limit than Virginia's 65 mph speed limit on rural Interstates.

Also, considering the high cost of the planned US-29 Charlottesville Bypass, $180 million total for engineering, right-of-way and construction, perhaps a private consortium will decide to tender a PPTA proposal to build this with all or nearly all private funding, to be recouped by tolls. A $1.00 car toll and a $3.00 large truck toll, would probably be sufficient to support the private toll revenue bonds, with the 15,000 or more vehicles per day and 10% large truck percentage that is projected initially on the new US-29 bypass. Having tolls on both I-81 and the new US-29 Charlottesville Bypass, might help ensure that a traffic shift doesn't occur if only I-81 is tolled. Also, given how VDOT is strapped for highway construction funding, I think that it would be great if the private sector would step in and fund these projects. Perhaps the private sector will eventually be able to raise capital on the stock markets, for equity toll road financing. A public information campaign would let the public know that their tolls are being used to fund a privately funded highway that might not exist otherwise, with the tolls going to the private enterprise so that they can recoup their investment, so such a public information campaign could help alleviate the complaints that some people have about paying a highway toll. Also, modern toll plazas such as the one at the new Route 895 Pocahontas Parkway near Richmond, Virginia, have superhighway roadways for non-stop full-highway-speed electronic toll collection with Smart Tag (and EZ-Pass also in the future), and outer toll plaza roadways for cash toll collection.

The Route 29 Bypass: A Rational View

By Mr. H. Carter Myers, III, Culpeper District representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (he retired from the CTB in April 2002, after serving 8 years). Published in the Charlottesville newspaper The Daily Progress. Provided to me by a member of the North Charlottesville Business Council, who told me that this is not copyrighted material and that Mr. Myers desires for it to be distributed freely. Verbatim copy follows (blue text):

The Route 29 By-pass: A Rational View

The History

Rt.29 is a strategic north-south transportation corridor from North Carolina to Gainesville. It is also a critical artery serving local commuters, shoppers, airport traffic and our fastest growing areas. Traffic volume in certain sections reaches 60,000 vehicles per day.

For nearly 25 years, our community has painfully searched to find a balance between the statewide and regional needs of a Rt. 29 "throughway" and the impacts on the local land, the environment, property values and our quality of life.

After studying approximately 27 possible road locations in the City and County, it was determined that the one with the least impacts, most direct path, and least cost was Alternative 10, ("Rt. 29 Western By-pass").

While this location has been criticized for many reasons, there were good reasons why this route was selected.

Selecting the Alternatives

First, all eastern routes and routes through the City were ruled out because of impacts to Monticello, costs, special easement conflicts, or substantial impacts to developed property.

Second, the far western routes, while more in the form of a "true by-pass," all crossed appreciably more of the Rivanna watershed and crossed the Reservoir, impacted more rural land, farms and subdivisions, cost more, and faced greater public opposition.

Third, the "Expressway" concept of a depressed four-lane road built down the middle of the current Rt. 29 North, with service roads for local traffic, was eliminated because of the significant cost, traffic confusion and impacts of building through this densely developed commercial section.

The Western By-pass, the shortest and least expensive, was selected and approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) in 1990 following a location public hearing and the issuance of an approved Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) Environmental Impact Statement.

The Advantages of the Selected Route

It was selected on the basis of the following:

I. This route does not cross the reservoir and has the shortest path (only 3.4 miles) in the watershed.

2. This was the least costly of the alternatives. While still costly, other than the delay, extra reservoir protection, and other community accommodation, there is nothing unusual that adds to cost other than bridges and rolling land.

3. Because of its close proximity, this route gives the most local benefit and diverts the most local traffic from the existing Rt. 29 North. If built today, approximately 15,000 vehicles would be diverted from the existing Rt. 29 North (approximately 25% of the current traffic). Travel would be uninterrupted from the Rt. 29-250 By-pass to Route 29 north of the Rivanna River.

4. It will serve traffic going to the University for employee parking, game traffic and the proposed new basketball arena. Improving mobility in the City at the Hydraulic Rd. intersection, the Rt. 250 / 29 By-pass ramp, along Emmett St, and on Ivy Road will be a substantial benefit.

5. Being the shortest route with no interchanges, it will have little impact on growth and development. While VDOT questioned the decision not to put an interchange at Hydraulic Rd., Albemarle County's request was honored.

6. Schools are not being affected. For purposes of comparison, St. Anne's Belfield Lower School is closer to the current Rt. 29-250 By-pass than any school would be to the Western Bypass. In fact, Agnor-Hurt Elementary, the County school nearest the Bypass route, was built by Albemarle County after the location was chosen.

7. The safety of the traveling public will be improved. Accident records historically show that a highway interrupted with traffic signals and unlimited access results in a greater number of accidents and deaths.

Twenty Five Years of Debate is Long Enough

Some have suggested we stop the By-pass. Unfortunately, we can't stop the need for a limited access route around Rt. 29. Even if we abandon the current project, we would need to begin a new search for a new route immediately. This would put new areas of the City and County back on the option table, and create a cloud over all property in the area. It would be a terrible situation to again put our citizens through.

There have been several debated alternatives. One contemplated building three grade-separated interchanges on Rt. 29 North at the intersections of Hydraulic Rd., Greenbrier Dr. and Rio Rd. In the mid '90s, VDOT spent $750,000 studying these interchanges. The plans, impacts, costs and benefits of these interchange projects were taken to a public information meeting and a meeting with the City and County officials. The City rejected the idea of an interchange at Hydraulic and withdrew its support.

While there would be a slight benefit for "through" traffic by the elimination of the three signalized intersections on the current Rt. 29 North, there would still be at least seven signal lights along with confusing and busy interchange ramps.

In 1995 the CTB voted to terminate the grade separation project. It used the remaining funds to build sidewalks and landscape the current Rt. 29 and moved the balance of the funding to the Western By-pass.

Proposals to move the north/south "through traffic" to an upgraded Rt.15 at Zion's Crossroads in lieu of building the Western By-pass have not proven feasible. Diverting north/south traffic sixteen miles to the east on I-64 and getting approval for road widening through the Greensprings Historical District of Louisa are not viable options.

The truth is, we are way down the road toward completing this project. For example:
All design work and related costs except for the northern terminus have been funded and completed.
Substantially all the property required to build the road has been purchased except for the northern and southern ends. All homes and the old SPCA have been acquired.
All environmental impacts have been assessed and the FWHA has approved the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Time to Move On

In closing, while no route is perfect, the current location of the Western By-pass will have positive benefits to our community and to the citizens traveling through Central Virginia. In fact, a 1995 survey of 625 local residents indicated support for the project by almost three to one.

From an environmental perspective, our reservoir will have more protection than any other in Virginia (I-64 crosses directly over the Newport News reservoir). All environmental impacts have been studied and will be appropriately mitigated. Extensive and thorough reservoir protection has been built into the design features. Spill protection, retention ponds, retaining walls, storm water and silt detention and filtration are all designed into the project.

From an economic perspective, it is important to note that our neighbors are moving ahead. Danville now has its by-pass. The Lynchburg-Madison Heights By-pass is under construction. All cities and towns from North Carolina to I-66 will soon have a Rt. 29 By-pass with the exception of Charlottesville.

Finally, from a historical perspective, it is interesting to note that the same type of debate took place 50 years ago when the functional and attractive Rt. 250 By-pass was proposed and built. No road could be nicer looking and more beneficial to this community.

It is time to bring this twenty-five year debate to a close, bring our community back together and move on to look at other transportation needs of our community.

What is "Sprawl"?

Here is a letter which I wrote to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch about this issue:

I've been a Richmond Times-Dispatch subscriber for many years, and one who is generally satisfied with the newspaper. You may publish the following Letter to the Editor if you wish.

I have read Mr. Rex Springston's article "Experts say sprawl still spreading - Efforts to control it locally faulted", from Nov 18, 2001. This article is generally similar to the whole "sprawl" series that he has written over the last year.

The definition of "sprawl" quoted in the article, is NOT a widespread definition of "sprawl".

The reason why I put the word "sprawl" in quotes is because I consider it to be the urban planners N-word, an offensive pejorative used to slam development patterns that the urban planners don't like. People like the Richmond city official and the VCU urban planning department chair (who Mr. Springston quotes Nov. 18th and in the past) seem to like the word, as do groups like the Sierra Club and their ilk.

I see that Mr. Springston uses language like "sprawl quickly eats up farmland and forests" and "the Richmond area is the sprawl champ of Virginia" and a couple dozen other such hyperbolic phrases that I have seen throughout his series of "sprawl" articles. I consider this to be demagogic language, and I don't see any quoted rebuttals in his articles from the critics of the "anti-sprawl movement".

By the way, from years of following the land-use management issue as it applies to development patterns, I believe that the bulk of the "anti-sprawl movement" is made of two groups of people, 1) those who live in low-density exurban areas who want to keep the "sprawl" from reaching them and increasing the density of their areas, and 2) those who live in and/or have businesses in high-density cities, who feel threatened by the suburban expansion allegedly diminishing the influence of their city. I consider both groups of people to be operating from ulterior motives, who use the pejorative word "sprawl" and their contrived definition of it as a bogeyman to attempt to influence public and official opinion in their favor.

Here are some of the well-known critics of the "anti-sprawl movement". I think that their material should be included as rebuttal material in any serious newspaper discussion series about so-called "sprawl". Wendell Cox Consultancy and the Public Purpose (http://www.publicpurpose.com), The Thoreau Institute (http://www.ti.org), and Reason Public Policy Institute (http://www.rppi.org).

[end of letter to editor]

Here is another letter which I sent to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I decided to respond to it with a letter to the reporter. I think that such a letter to a reporter about his newspaper article, is fair game to post on my website. This one mainly concerns refutation to some of the disinformation produced by the Sierra Klub, Virginia Chapter.

Mr. Jones,

I've been a _Richmond Times-Dispatch_ subscriber for many years, and one who is generally satisfied with the newspaper.

I must take exception to the Sierra Club's conclusions cited in your November 18, 2001 article, "Richmond fails test on clean air - Study: Too little money goes toward mass transit".

Excerpts follow with my comments:

'The report highlights the need for the Richmond area to give residents more opportunities to get out of their cars, said Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.'

SMK: What do they suggest? While the Richmond Metropolitan Planning Organization 2023 Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) suggests possible local commuter rail lines sometime beyond 2015, there is no need for local rail transit before then. The local GRTC bus system has 55 local lines and 12 express lines, and the good regional highway system can certainly support more local and express bus service. The Richmond area has 1 million population and does fine with the bus public transit it has now. Long distance passenger rail is presently being enhanced with the renovation of Main Street Station in the downtown, to be reopened to passenger service next year; and the Richmond-Washington high-speed rail project has already begun.

'Virginia dedicated $5.10 to public transportation for every $100 to road construction, according to the Sierra Club report. By contrast, New York received an A for spending $128 on transit for every $100 on roads.'

SMK: I've seen this bit of disinformation from the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, several times in the past. It needs to be refuted.

The first comparison is VDOT funds allocated to local public transit systems in the state, and VDOT spending on roads -- it is a bogus comparison since it compares VDOT spending on the over 85% of the public road mileage in the state that is VDOT administered, to the VDOT allocations to the 30 mostly-locally administered and funded urban transit systems around the state. It ignores the state funding to public transit systems that is provided by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and it ignores the expenditures by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to Metrorail and Metrobus operations in Northern Virginia, and it ignores the expenditures by the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to local commuter rail operations in Northern Virginia.

So the real figure is probably over 10% as much total public funding in Virginia for transit, compared to total public funding for roads; for all levels of government. Given that transit in Virginia has less than 3% of the ridership as compared to the ridership on cars on roads, and that transit carries no freight, I think that public transit is already getting far more public funding than its modal share would indicate.

As far as the "New York" comparison, the Sierra Club conveniently omits whether they are referring to "New York City" or to "New York State". That figure looks right for the City, but not for the whole state. I don't trust the Sierra Club, since they constantly demagogue the issues when it comes to transportation issues. Right there they put Virginia alongside of New York without specifying whether they were referring to New York City or to New York State, and from my reading of some of the Sierra Klub's literature over the years, I think that the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club is deceptive enough to use the figure for New York CITY, leave off the word "city" and compare it to Virginia (which is obviously a state), so that the reader will assume that the Klub meant New York STATE.

'"For the last 50 years, we've been putting virtually all of our money into roads," Besa said. "While it's given us a lot of freedoms and benefits, it's given a lot of air that's not safe to breathe in the summer."'

That's baloney any way you slice it.

Urban air quality in the Richmond area, in Virginia, and all over the U.S., has steadily gotten better over the last 30 years, and is vastly improved over that period.

The Virginia state and local governments have done a decent job over the last 40 years of investing in public transit where it is needed. Washington Metrorail cost $11 billion to build, and has a $1.5 billion annual budget for operations and construction; and 1/3 of the Metrorail system is in Northern Virginia.

The cost to build the 103 miles of Metrorail, $11 billion, is almost three times the cost to build the 1,124 miles of Interstate highways in Virginia, $4.5 billion. So much for Besa's bogus whining about "putting virtually all of our money into roads".

[end of letter to reporter]

Sources

1) "Route 29 Corridor Study, City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County"; Location Public Hearing brochure, from the Location Public Hearing, held on June 28, 1990, by VDOT.
2) "Route 29 Interchange Design: Hydraulic Road, Greenbrier Drive, Rio Road; Albemarle County, City of Charlottesville"; Public Information Meeting brochure, from the Public Information Meeting, held on October 26, 1994.
3) "Route 29 Bypass Modifications: Northern and Southern Termini, City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County"; Location Public Hearing brochure, from the Location Public Hearing, held on February 13, 1995, by VDOT.
4) "Bypass Update: Information About the Route 29 Bypass Design"; Winter 1997, by VDOT.
5) "Route 29 Bypass: Albemarle County"; Design Public Hearing brochure, from the Design Public Hearing, held on February 25, 1997, by VDOT.
6)
Highway Location Process Report Summary, and Review of the Highway Location Process, by Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) of the Virginia General Assembly, January 1998.
7)
Piedmont Environmental Council v. United States Department of Transportation, Case Number: 3:98CV0004, Issued: 08/21/2001, by Judge Norman K. Moon, United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
8)
012286.U ... 02/07/03 Piedmont Environ v. US Dept of Transport, Case Number 012286.U, issued February 7, 2003, by United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
9)
Road Officials Brief County Board on Rt. 29 Environmental Study, February 6, 2002, news release, by VDOT.
10) "Route 29 Bypass: Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville", handout sheet from the Public Hearing, held on March 14, 2002, by VDOT.
11) VDOT/CTB Six-Year Program, Fiscal Year 2002-2007.

Legend

VDOT - Virginia Department of Transportation
FHWA - Federal Highway Administration
CTB - Commonwealth Transportation Board
MPO - Metropolitan Planning Organization
CAMPO - Charlottesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
TIP - Transportation Improvement Program
EA - Environmental Assessment
FONSI - Finding of No Significant Impact
EIS - Environmental Impact Statement
FEIS - Final Environmental Impact Statement
DEIS - Draft Environmental Impact Statement
SEIS - Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
ROD - Record of Decision
NEPA - National Environmental Policy Act
SC - Sierra Club
PEC - Piedmont Environmental Council
RE/T group - radical environmentalist/transit group

Credits

Copyright 2002-2004 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future

(Created 5-1-2002, updated 2-15-2004)