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Lynchburg Regional Chamber Files Freedom of Information Act Requests Pertaining to US29 Bypass of Charlottesville

In light of last week's decision by the Federal Highway Administration to halt the approved, funded and contracted US29 Western Bypass around Charlottesville, the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce announces plans to file Freedom of Information Act Requests with various government agencies.

"A project with extensive study, final approval and funding that is now halted, warrants details", stated Chamber EVP, Christine Kennedy.

The Chamber plans to file FOIA Requests with the Federal Highway Administration at the local, district and national levels. In addition, the Chamber will file a FOIA Request with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Secretary of Transportation for all discussions regarding the US29 Bypass around Charlottesville.

The project has been studied more than 14 times, endured hundreds of public hearings, and the current route was chosen out of 27 suggested routes. "VDOT's priority is safety which makes this bypass all the more important. The Secretary of Transportation should consider the safety concerns of US29 in Charlottesville above all issues. We don't need more studies, we need to build the bypass", stated Lynchburg Region Transportation Advocacy Group Chair, Ed Craighill.

Kennedy added that "If progress on the route is outpacing the bypass project, that's a real indication that officials aren't moving quick enough to ensure safe roads are planned and built. We can't study this for another 20 years. It's just unacceptable for the citizens and businesses of Virginia."

The Chamber has been asked by VDOT to recommend next steps and information gleaned from these FOIA requests will enable the Chamber to make the most informed recommendations.

 

Newman: Federal agency blocks U.S. 29 bypass

View story in The News & Advance
Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 11:10 pm

RICHMOND — The U.S. 29 bypass in Albemarle County won’t receive federal-government approval, leaving few alternatives for avoiding the county’s 20 or more traffic lights on Central Virginia’s primary connection to Washington, D.C.

State Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, said Wednesday the Federal Highway Administration essentially told Virginia officials it won’t approve the six-mile bypass, and suggested they seek another route.

Other routes probably are not feasible, Newman said, adding the only alternative to the bypass might be limited to synchronizing some existing traffic lights on U.S. 29 Business in Albemarle County.

Other solutions are possible, said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which opposes the bypass. A locally developed master plan for roads, called Places 29, proposes major upgrades to two intersections, along with parallel roadways beside part of the business route.

Newman, who has pushed for the bypass for about 20 years, said he felt Gov. Terry McAuliffe was less enthusiastic about the project than former Gov. Bob McDonnell had been.

“But what you don’t expect is a left hook from the federal government, saying that even if you get all your ducks in a row, we are not going to approve it,” Newman said.

He added he thought the decision had been influenced by Democratic political donors in the Charlottesville area and their support of President Barack Obama.

State Sen. Tom Garrett, whose district includes Lynchburg, said, “We had feared something like this might happen, but we didn’t see it coming like this right now,” just over a month after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said “it is regrettable and absurd that the senators would politicize this issue.”

Coy added McAuliffe “is committed to fixing the problem” of traffic congestion on U.S. 29 and Wednesday asked his secretary of transportation, Aubrey Lane, to “come up with an alternative proposal in 30 days.”

Garrett, R-Louisa County, said he will urge state legislators along the U.S. 29 corridor from Danville to Culpeper to sign a protest letter to all of Virginia’s congressional delegation and both U.S. senators.

Christine Kennedy, speaking for the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, said, “We are extremely disappointed with the FHA decision. There been numerous studies and years of work put into this.”

The chamber organized an email campaign earlier this week, urging the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to support the bypass during a Wednesday night public hearing.

Butler said, "We are hoping the county also will send a clear signal to Richmond that they are opposed to the project."

News of the federal agency’s letter trickled out to state decision-makers Wednesday.

Mark Peake, the Lynchburg region’s member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, said he learned of the decision Wednesday morning, and wasn’t greatly surprised.

“This project was ready to proceed, it had been approved and a contract entered into, and the FHA held the project up and kept everyone waiting,” Peake said. “My fear all along was that the longer the project was delayed the less likely it would be that we would ever break ground.”

Environmental studies on what’s called the Western corridor are too old, the agency said in a letter to Charles Kilpatrick, Virginia transportation commissioner.

Also, the route is too short to bypass all of the development that has occurred since the project was proposed 20 years ago, said the letter, which was signed by Irene Rico, a federal highway administrator.

While the federal agency’s letter doesn’t kill the project outright, “it basically tells us that while the state of Virginia could go back and update the studies, they have predetermined that even if we did, they are unlikely to approve it,” Newman said.

He said he would expect environmental groups to fight any new route that might be proposed, including one that has been suggested along the Virginia 15 corridor east of Charlottesville.

Environmentalists have shown they can delay a project for 20 years, Newman said, even when state transportation officials win every lawsuit that’s filed to block a highway.