“We believe Secretary Connaughton has taken an overly aggressive stance on long-controversial transportation projects, and in doing so, is making major spending decisions without adequate analysis, public input or careful prioritization setting,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
This spring, Secretary Connaughton led the push to designate a part of the controversial “outer beltway” in Northern Virginia as a “Corridor of Statewide Significance.” Now the Secretary is leading the push for the controversial “Charlottesville Western Bypass,” lobbying the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to reverse their long-held opposition to the bypass — an action they took without any public notice.
The Secretary now proposes to divert approximately $230 million in funding to the Charlottesville area project. This takes place just one month after the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted on the Six-Year Transportation Plan — a plan that did not include the project. “The Secretary’s proposal is being advanced without the public input that took place in the development of the Six-Year Plan, and despite the many flaws in the bypass proposal,” said Schwartz.
The funding may be coming from the nearly $1.5 billion Public Private Transportation Act fund, despite other more critical PPTA projects which have not yet been fully funded.
“We don’t see any prioritization process with the PPTA fund. How will the PPTA funds be allocated given the priority needs for I-95 and the Downtown and Mid-Town tunnels in Hampton Roads?” Schwartz continued.
Between I-95, the two tunnel projects, and other proposed projects like Route 460 and the Coalfields Expressway, the $1.5 billion PPTA fund would already be overcommitted. Therefore, the $230 million diversion of funds will likely come from the expense of these projects. Even if the funds are coming sources other than the PPTA fund — it would have to mean cuts to other non-PPTA projects in Virginia.
The push to revive the controversial “Charlottesville Western Bypass” comes despite ample evidence – primarily from VDOT sources — that less costly approaches would more effectively address transportation problems in the Route 29 corridor. The area has been advancing a more direct set of solutions to the Route 29 Corridor. Moreover the bypass would potentially lead to pollution of area drinking water supplies and is being advanced without updated traffic analysis, public input or transparency.
“We urge the Secretary to do a full accounting of his proposed allocations for the $1.5 billion PPTA fund and the impact of the $230 million shift in funds to the ‘Charlottesville Western Bypass.’ For these significant decisions, we urge more deliberate analysis, real consideration of less costly and more effective alternatives, explanation of the priorities being set, and greater transparency and commitment to fair process and public input,” said Schwartz. “We have risked future state and federal transportation funds by borrowing to the extent we have, so we must ensure these funds are spent wisely.”