A strong majority of Charlottesville-area residents thinks a U.S. Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville is needed, and a majority favors construction of the proposed Western Bypass, according to the Jefferson Area Community Survey just completed by the University of Virginia Center for Survey Research.
Sixty-two percent of area residents say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed; 25 percent say a bypass is not needed, and 12 percent expressed no opinion. When considering only those who did voice an opinion, 71 percent say a U.S. 29 bypass is needed, while 29 percent say a bypass is not needed.
Asked more specifically about the proposed Western Bypass, 53 percent favor construction of the much-discussed road, 30 percent oppose it and 17 percent voice no opinion. Of those who have an opinion, about one-third (32.2 percent) strongly favor construction, another third (32.1 percent) somewhat favor it and the remainder are somewhat opposed (16.6 percent) or strongly opposed (19.2 percent).
The survey was conducted by telephone from late November to mid-January and included more than 900 respondents representing the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties. All of the interviews took place after the Nov. 5 elections, in which three new representatives were elected to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, all of whom have taken positions against the Western Bypass.
“Although a majority of residents is still in favor of a U.S. 29 bypass, there has been a modest but significant decrease in support since we last asked about this issue two years ago,” said Tom Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research. “In our January 2012 survey, 69 percent said a bypass is needed, compared to 62 percent right now.
“By far the strongest predictor of opinion on these road issues is political views,” he added.
The survey shows that, among those with an opinion, a slight majority of those who identify themselves as liberals oppose the Western Bypass (47.5 percent in favor, 52.5 percent opposed) in sharp contrast to conservatives (81 percent in favor) and moderates (63 percent in favor). Party identification mirrors this ideological divide, with favorable opinions toward the Western Bypass expressed by 86 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and a bare majority (52 percent) of Democrats.
There are geographic differences in views of the Western Bypass. Among those who had an opinion, about 58 percent of Charlottesville and Albemarle residents favor the road’s construction, while 84 percent of Louisa County residents favor it. Education has an affect as well: Respondents who hold advanced degrees are less favorable than others (55 percent for the Western Bypass, 45 percent against).
The survey also asked respondents if they consider traffic congestion on U.S. Route 29 going through the Charlottesville area to be “a major problem, a minor problem, not too much of a problem, or not a problem at all.” Forty-nine percent of all respondents said this is a major problem. That represents little change from opinion in January 2012, when 52 percent said traffic on the road was a “major” problem.
Not surprisingly, people who think traffic is a major problem on Route 29 are more likely to say a bypass is needed (87 percent of those with an opinion) and more likely to favor construction of the Western Bypass (81 percent).
“Of course, we don’t use referendums to decide where to build our roads,” Guterbock said. “But if the Western Bypass were put to a vote today across our region, it would very likely have enough popular support to win approval. Nevertheless, the two political parties would probably take opposite sides of the issue, as we are seeing in the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.”
The Jefferson Area Community Survey is a regional omnibus survey carried out twice a year, reaching adults across the region via landline and cellular phones. The survey is supported financially by government agencies, nonprofits and University researchers who place questions on the survey.
Questions about the bypass issue are unsponsored questions that were included in the survey by the Center for Survey Research for their public interest value. With 904 interviews completed between Nov. 21 and Jan. 10, the survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Exact question wording, JACS 4 (NOV 2013 – JAN 2014):
Now we’d like to ask you some questions about your local community:
Do you believe a U.S. Route 29 Bypass around Charlottesville is needed, or not? (YES/NO)
As you may know, a Western Bypass of U.S. Route 29 was approved and then funded, with detailed construction plans having begun. This project has been in the news a lot recently, with people speaking out both for and against it. Do you favor or oppose construction of the Western Bypass? Would you say you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose construction of the Western Bypass?
Do you consider traffic congestion on U.S. Route 29 going through the Charlottesville area to be a major problem, a minor problem, not too much of a problem, or not a problem at all?