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July 13, 2007

VDOT's Giometti presents Places29 transportation study

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The Places29 Master Plan has entered its next phase, and the Albemarle County Planning Commission has begun a series of work sessions to examine each element in turn. On July 10, 2007, John Giometti of the Virginia Department of Transportation presented the Transportation Study component of the plan, which explains how the Places29 fits into the region's transportation network.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070710-CpC-Places29.mp3


Before the presentation, Mike McGowan of the North Charlottesville Business Council presented ideas created by UVA architecture students to help improve pedestrian access across U.S. 29. The ideas would see pedestrian crossing lights built between traffic light, and McGowan claims there would be enough spacing to allow traffic queuing to proceed as normal.

"They've come up with three ways to get people across that are affordable, realistic, and the kinds of things that the Council would like to see happen," said McGowan. Commission Chair Marcia Joseph (At-Large) told McGowan she appreciated being shown the slides, and County Senior Planner Judith Wiegand said her staff will examine whether they are feasible.

Giometti's presentation began with a history of the Places29 process, which dates back to an original study called 29H250 (.PDF) which sought to find new alternatives for the interchange between those two federal highways at Emmet Street. That process involved trying to see how U.S. 29 could be designed as both a corridor for intrastate transport, as well as a regional network. The idea of developing additional roads to run parallel to 29 evolved from this process.

Giometti also presented a few slides of the Places29 Access Management Plan, which is an aerial map depicting potential futures for all driveways and roads entering U.S. 29.

"We realize that as their uses change in the future and the traffic becomes heavier on 29, we really have to think about what's the best way to get on and off the highway," he said.

After hearing the presentation, Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) warned Giometti that parallel roads on the west side of U.S. 29 could affect the area's drinking supply, as extra traffic on Berkmar Drive would mean more pollutants in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. He also expressed concern that "there is no way to introduce a continuous parallel road or service road along the east side without impacting some private property."

Giometti acknowledged that there are many constraints, but that all of the individual elements of the Places29 plan when taken together would add up to a plan that works.

"If you look at the southern part of the corridor, we don't have a lot of opportunities to get a continuous parallel road on the west side," he said. "So we're focused on building Hillsdale. Then once you get to the northern part of the corridor, it flip-flops, and Berkmar becomes our primary opportunity. That's why Rio grade-separation becomes so critical. You really don't need parallel roads on both sides if you can get across 29 freely."

Giometti said that he thought an extended Berkmar would not impact the watershed because the road would be downstream of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) asked what the timeframe for some of the transportation improvements, and wondered if they were realistic.

Giometti said the plan anticipates traffic projections for 2025. "[Places29] is  assuming that all of these things are happening in some symbiotic relationship. If we continue down the same path we've been down in the Commonwealth, your development and congestion are going to come first and then your traffic improvements are going to come later. The whole idea with Places29 is to do the land use and transportation planning at the same time so that we don't end up in that situation."

Reflecting on the scale of the recommendations, Commissioner Duane Zobrist (White Hall) told Giometti it appeared the community would need a couple million people to support some of the buildings and transportation improvements depicted in some of the photo simulations.

"Do you use any kind of population growth projections or do you have models that say you need a certain amount of people to do these wonderful things?" he asked.

Albemarle County Chief of Planning David Benish said the modeling for Places29 is based on projections made by the Virginia Employment Commission. "The 29 North Corridor is an area where there is expected to be growth," he said.

In February, the Commission was told that the Places29 study area can handle a substantial amount of new housing.  The area has 14,200 homes today.  The plan anticipates construction of 6,800 additional homes during the next twenty years.  Albemarle County has already approved 2,800 of those homes in the North Pointe, Albemarle Place, and Hollymead Town Center developments.  Plans for an additional 1,228 homes at Hollymead Town Center are currently under review by the County.  If built, 6,800 new homes could accommodate population growth of another 17,000 people [2.5 people per dwelling unit].

Commissioner Joseph said she was concerned about many of the proposed connector roads depicted as running through rural areas on the northeastern portion of the Places29 Transportation Study.

Albemarle County Senior Planner Judith Wiegand said the green lines used are not intended to be specifics.

"Those are supposed to be general indicators of where roads might come in from the Eastern Connector," Wiegand said.

The draft text of Chapters 1 through 4 will be presented to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 17 beginning at 5:00 PM in Lane Auditorium. Chapter 1 features an introduction to the plan. Chapter 2 outlines the plan’s vision and guiding principles. Chapter 3 lays out the existing conditions and future trends of the corridor. Finally, Chapter 4 establishes definitions for “centers” and “neighborhoods” – two of the key terms in the plan.

Selected highlights from the video:

00:00 - Introduction from Judith Wiegand, Albemarle County Senior Planner
01:30 - John Giometti of VDOT presents the history of the Places29 Plan
06:30 - Giometti presents section on traffic and the transportation network
22:00 - Giometti discusses how grade-separation intersection would work at Hydraulic Road/US 29, including a photo simulation of how Hydraulic Road-US 29 intersection might look
26:00 - Giometti presents how Rio Road-US 29 intersection might look, including a photo simulation
30:50 - Giometti presents series of slides on how public transportation, pedestrian, and biking options will be integrated into Places29
36:30 - Giometti details the parallel road network, including photo simulations of Berkmar Drive at Sam's Club
40:00 - Giometti discusses how redevelopment of the corridor can be done to accomodate transit, including photo simulations of a revamped Albemarle Square and Rio Road's "Gasoline Alley"
42:20 - Giometti defines the Access Management Program
47:00 - Question from Commissioner Bill Edgerton on the Access Management Program and the effects of Berkmar Drive on water quality in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir
52:00 - Comments from Commissioner Marcia Joseph on green infrastructure
53:40 - Question from Commissioner Joseph on "jughandles" at Timberwood Boulevard
58:40 - Comments from Commissioner Jon Cannon about how whether the Places29 improvements anticipate or create traffic
1:01:40 - Comments from Commissioner Duane Zobrist about what population projections have been made
1:06:30 Comment from Commissioner Joseph about proposed roads depicted on the Study as being in rurally zoned areas

Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler

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