“Even under the most optimistic cost scenario, the (Western) Bypass never reaches economic break even. Under all other cost scenarios, it destroys significant value.”

Charlottesville – Missing from much coverage of Charlottesville’s proposed Western “bypass” is the fiscal reality of taxpayers building a $200+ million highway for some $8 million in public benefits. Governor Robert McDonnell, while proposing that Virginia’s gasoline tax be eliminated, hopes to pay for the highway through states bonds backed by future federal gasoline taxes returned to the Commonwealth.

At a Wednesday, Jan. 23 forum at C’ville Coffee on Harris Street, Erich Zimmermann, of the Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), and Jim Bacon, former editor of Virginia Business and presently CEO of BaconsRebellion, will discuss fiscal aspects of the 6.2 mile, 4-lane highway planned to bisect eight existing neighborhoods and run within a quarter mile of six area schools. While the negative health effects of being so close to highway vehicle exhaust are documented in two dozen studies, few area citizens recognize that TCS calls the Western “bypass” one of the worst construction projects in the nation.

The winning construction bid for the fast-tracked, design-build project did indeed come in under projections but the 60-mile per hour highway will dead end into the Darden Business School and the University of Virginia has already begun requesting expensive change orders projected to add at least $25 million to Skanska-Branch’s $136 million bid. Cost overruns and change orders are a common feature of design-build projects, a recent Federal Highway Administration analysis points out, which end up costing taxpayers more than similar “design-bid-build” projects, the traditional manner of construction.
Indeed the difference between Skanska’s low bid and the high bid was $80 million, almost two-thirds of Skanska’s entire bid. The other active design-build project on Virginia’s books is a bicycle path for $6.9 million near Williamsburg.

Bacon produced the only “return on investment” study of the “bypass” and found $8 million in benefits, primarily to Lynchburg and Danville businesses who might save 2 minutes and 40 seconds in their rush to decrease the five-hour drive to D.C. and the 10 hours to New York City. Only under the most optimistic scenarios, his ROI research indicates, would Virginia taxpayers recoup even the 4.4 percent interest on the required bonds. Zimmermann, who analyzes national transportation issues to determine how best to spend taxpayer dollars, will discuss how projects such as the Western “bypass” affect the national $16.4 trillion debt and why Virginia taxpayers should be concerned over paying for a project with a funding category the governor believes should be eliminated.

While many citizens presume the “bypass” will relieve area congestion, the Virginia Department of Transportation reports that U.S. 29 North will remain primarily an “F level of service” highway after construction is complete. In its latest “Environmental Assessment,” most of VDOT’s claimed congestion relief will come from generally unfunded Places29 projects which, in total, would cost taxpayers about half of the Western “bypass.”

The 10:30 a.m. C’ville Coffee event will include what fiscal conservatives can do to address the spending of tax dollars which the state does not have. C’ville Coffee is at 1301 Harris Street in the McIntire Plaza shopping area.