With $16.4 trillion in U.S. debt and the possible sequester daily topics in America, my state, Virginia, is on the verge of building a $240-million highway in Albemarle County when it provides only $8 million in public benefits; when it will only save truckers a minute off the full-day drive to New York; when it will likely injure student health: when over 90 percent of area public comments indicate it is unwanted and when virtually every other democracy on the planet is trying to discourage driving.

The state notes today that Virginia’s Department of Transportation (VDOT) will run out of funding for new construction by 2017 unless law makers pilfer additional dollars from sales tax revenues, while the costs of building this highway will climb because the present, accepted, design is, as a business-school engineer puts it, “a bait and switch.”

Skanska-Branch’s winning $135.9 million bid for constructing the so-called “Western Bypass of Charlottesville,” which dumps 18-wheelers onto a college campus from an 11.4 percent grade – steeper than all but one of Colorado’s 35 mountain passes – will indeed never be built. The low bid design works to make taxpayers think construction of this 6.2 mile four-lane is somewhat reasonable but no one at VDOT suggests the final cost will be anywhere close to $136 million. Presently identified change orders, for example, on only the Southern Terminus of the highway will add at least $25 million, probably more, once taxpayers and media are no longer paying attention.

Indeed, following VDOT’s proclamation in 2009 that “the Western Bypass is no longer an effective option to serve corridor-wide trips” – its mandated purpose — a former Virginia Business magazine editor declared this highway “The Road to Wealth Destruction” and the Taxpayers for Common Sense called it one of the eight worst projects in the nation.

This fall, however, a Republican member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) who kept trying to awaken citizens to this waste of taxpayer dollars was dismissed unceremoniously by a Republican governor and secretary of transportation.

Republican Senator Stephen Newman of Lynchburg has been the driving force for the highway, claiming that the Charlottesville “bypass” which runs through eight established neighborhoods and within a quarter mile of six area schools while ending short of two massive suburban neighborhoods and the area’s largest shopping mall, will build economic opportunity in his downstate community. He proposes that major manufacturers will site new plants downstate if their trucks can get to Washington D.C., New York City and Boston quicker.

VDOT’s early analysis notes, however, that 18-wheelers will save 66 seconds in the 10 hours from Lynchburg to NYC and a more recent analysis, after the existing U.S. 29N highway’s stop lights were synchronized, put the time savings at 51 seconds while many truckers say the Skanska design is too unsafe for use.

“The (bypass) project as designed does not meet community or regional needs, and has been determined too costly for the transportation benefits to be gained,” the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan notes. “The transportation goals of the Bypass can be more effectively realized with improvements to the existing Route 29 corridor.”

VDOT reports that 3,194 of the 3,257 comments on its recent bypass assessment opposed building the so-called “bypass,” or demanded additional study, and the University of Virginia’s representative to the area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization says that, “at best, five percent” of the public input has been in favor of the highway.

One of the handful of local proponents for the bypass, a car dealer, served on the CTB in the 1990s when it reversed guarantees to Charlottesville, Albemarle County and University of Virginia to build overpasses along existing U.S. 29 prior to considering any bypass and has claimed that the bypass proposal will now tie up all funding and ensure that the state can never afford to build the collection of projects called “Places29” which deal with local congestion – but possibly might slow his sales.

The businessman, and apparently other unaware businesses along 29N, believes companies will lose too many drop-in customers if overpasses and a new bridge over the Rivanna River are built at about half the cost of the “bypass.” There is no data to support that belief, however. Furthermore, proponents contend the state will find another $132 million to expand the present “bypass” design to extend past the airport and truly bypass the new suburbs, instead of putting 18-wheelers along the access to Hollymead and Forest Lakes neighborhoods as the plan does today.

That money simply does not, and will not, exist, explains former CTB member Jim Rich. With the existing proposal tying up half of the entire amount projected for the local transportation district through 2050, there is no chance other communities in the district will support giving even more money to Albemarle County.

“This $244 million is a colossal waste of taxpayer money from which anyone, especially fiscal conservatives, should recoil,” Rich says. “This so-called bypass proposal would harm Charlottesville-Albemarle by hurting 1,500 homes and bulldozing 40, injuring six schools and 4,000 school children and causing damage to UVA’s Darden Business School.”

Those schoolkids are especially vulnerable. There are at least a dozen studies since 2009 which illustrate that children who live and learn near major highways suffer greater asthma and autism, plus have lessened lung capacity. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that any school within a half mile of a major highway be analyzed to determine the negative effects on children while Virginia is poised to build a new highway within a quarter mile of six schools with money it has to borrow.

The only return on investment study of the so-called “bypass” indicates total public benefits will not likely offset even interest payments on the note.

“We would be taking a lot of money out of other areas, including the Richmond area, which has a fair amount of unmet needs,” Rich, a 20-year member of the state Republican Party Executive Committee, adds. “The General Assembly should stop this bypass fiasco, Virginia’s own ‘Solyndra’ road.”

“As a conservative free-enterprise Virginian worried about the economic future of our country, I couldn’t sit there on the CTB and rubber stamp bad policy.”