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December 10, 2007

Commission discusses changes to six-year transportation funding list

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Albemarle County has begun the annual process to amend a list that sets priorities for how to use funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Since 1986, the Six Year Secondary Road plan has been used to tell the state, as well as the federal government, how the County plans to spend its share on secondary roads. Yet, even with a focus on a few community priorities, with funding from the state declining significantly during this decade, the County’s wish list doesn’t change much from year to year.

All of the County’s state funding for secondary roads is currently being channeled into three projects: The County’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway, Jarman’s Gap Road in Crozet, and improvements to Georgetown Road.

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The process begins with a discussion before the Planning Commission, which suggests changes to be made to the plan. The Commission took up this year’s six-year plan at its meeting on December 4, 2007, though their discussion was  held before VDOT released hard figures for how much money will be available in the next fiscal year.

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Chief Planner David Benish

“We don’t make radical changes every year, but we do update it based on various requests and changes in circumstance from year to year,” said David Benish, Albemarle County’s Chief Planner. 

However, incremental changes to the plan reflect policy decisions made in the previous year. For instance, County staff is now suggesting removing the proposed Free State Road from the list entirely. The 2007 Six Year Plan listed it as the County’s fifth priority, but Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade said it has been removed because a new road being constructed as part of the Belvedere development will replace a substandard bridge that the County was previously going to need to pay to replace.

The Southern Parkway, which would connect 5th Street and Avon, jumped three places to #6. County staff has received word from VDOT that the project, which is estimated to cost $6,200,000, is now eligible for full secondary road funding. Previously, VDOT had told the County that they would need to contribute half of the amount with local dollars in order to receive state funding.

A project to improve Sunset Avenue (Route 781) has been combined to add a proposed connector road through to Fontaine Avenue. Consequently, the joint project also jumped three spaces to #7. No cost estimate is given for the project.   

“That project has become more important with the development in that part of the County as well as Biscuit Run,” Wade said. The Planning and Coordination Council Tech Committee, a three-party panel made up of the County, the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, has recently floated the idea of constructing an interchange on Interstate 64 to accomplish the same goals as the Sunset-Fontaine Connector.

A project to build a bridge over the Rivanna River for Berkmar Drive Extended made the biggest jump on the list, going from #22 to #8. An extended Berkmar Drive to Hollymead Town Center would be developed as a parallel road to alleviate congestion through the Route 29 corridor. The Places29 project under consideration by the County had originally envisioned a Northern Free State Road to serve the same purpose, but that project has now been removed from the draft list.

The County will also try to fund bridge improvement projects as one line item on the Six Year Plan. This is priority #10.  Three projects are listed: Free State Bridge on Route 651, Advance Mill on Route 743 and the bridge that carries Route 708 over Buckingham Branch Road.

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County Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade

County staff also decided to drop a project to make improvements to Old Ivy Road from #7 to #11. “We thought it would be premature to start planning on that because it may be something that can be done in conjunction with the University of Virginia’s gateway project,” Wade said.

“The top three projects, Meadowcreek, Jarman’s Gap and Georgetown, will continue to take the bulk of the funding over the next six years,” said David Benish, the County’s Chief Planner.

The County’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway will be fully funded, given that money has been accruing for the project over the past several years. Money for the $25,460,283 project will continue to accrue over the next couple of years. An advertisement date of June 2008 is still expected. Cilimberg says the advertising date is determined in part based on when full funding is achieved.

However, the next two items on the list, Jarman’s Gap and Georgetown Road improvements, are not yet fully funded. In the case of Jarman’s Gap, the cost estimate is expected to rise above the current estimate of $14,606,792, and the advertisement date is currently set at November 2010. The scope of the Georgetown  Road  project has been scaled back to bring costs down to just over $2 million.

Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) asked how money from proffers factored into the equation, pointing out that the Biscuit Run rezoning was conditional on the County receiving money for transportation projects such as improvements for Old Lynchburg Road or the Sunset-Fontaine Connector. Transportation proffers have typically taken the form of intersection improvements, such as a scheduled upgrade of the I-64/250 interchange at Shadwell.  Benish said these uses don’t affect their placement in the priority list, which is designed to let VDOT know where its money will be spent.

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Location of the proposed Southern Parkway extension (Source: VDOT)

Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning and Community Development, said the Board of Supervisors is looking for ways to accelerate secondary road projects with other funds.  The Board has made a decision to put more money into the [Capital Improvement Program (CIP)] for roads, for transportation projects that have [previously] been totally VDOT’s obligation,” Cilimberg said.  “Decisions need to be made as to where that money will be spent. Money is accumulating in the CIP to try to supplement VDOT monies for some of these projects, and that’s essentially just to cover the inflation factor.” Other options could include asking the General Assembly for authority to develop a tax district to raise more money.

Many items toward the end of the list are included to reflect all potential new projects. For instance, #41 on the draft list is for a parallel road from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead Drive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a definite project.

“This inventory is reflecting every dash that we show on the comprehensive plan,” said David Benish. “Everything after #22 has not been scrutinized in any detail. It is literally a laundry list of everything that’s been sort of identified out there.” 

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Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller)

Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) suggested re-ordering the order of priorities at the top of the list, expressing frustration that the Meadowcreek Parkway is eating up much of the state funding. He suggested moving improvements to Proffit Road, #5 in the draft plan, below the Southern Parkway, which finished at #6.  The Commission directed staff to amend the plan to reflect this idea, as well as to apply funding for rural paving to secondary road construction and improvement projects.

RURAL ROAD PAVING PROJECTS

The list also documents the order in which rural roads will be paved using VDOT funding.  There are two categories – rural rustic and regular road paving. Each has a separate line item of funding from the state.

“The county expends the minimum amount of funding on unpaved roads permitted by the state,” Benish said. Last year, the County received about $540,000 for these projects. However, there are well over 50 roads listed on the six year plan. All of the County’s paving projects are in the rural areas, with the exception of Reservoir Road.

Jon Cannon asked if VDOT’s willingness to fund the paving of rural roads was consistent with the County’s comprehensive plan, which seeks to discourage development in the rural areas. County Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade said VDOT has the goal of paving all public roads in the state, but counties that choose to opt out will be penalized. That’s why the County chose the policy of only spending the minimum each year.

However, Wade said VDOT’s rural rustic road program offers an alternative, where roads can be paved at a slightly lower standard, meaning that the unpaved roads will not also be built out to VDOT’s full specification.

“We’re still going through a test phase for the rural rustic roads,” Wade said, adding that VDOT will not allow this program to be used on roads where significant through-traffic might occur.

And that poses problems for the Board of Supervisors, according to Cilimberg. He said that creating better roads encourages more development in rural areas that the County, leading to new residents who demand services.

“We have an extensive list of roads in the rural areas where citizens have asked for them to be paved,” he said, adding that the Board has struggled to find an appropriate balance. He said the rural rustic road program helps pave more roads for less dollars.

“This is only going to get worse as more and more of the rural area becomes developed through by-right development,” said Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett). “It really is an argument for bringing the zoning more in compliance with the comprehensive plan.”

Based on that discussion, Duane Zobrist (White Hall) said he wanted to recommend applying the funding for paving of rural roads to the Meadowcreek Parkway. Edgerton reminded Zobrist that VDOT would reduce the amount of funding available in future years should that policy be adopted by the Board. Zobrist said he was okay with that, given the County’s desire to preserve rural areas.

The Six Year Plan will now go before the Board of Supervisors at a Public Hearing early next year.

Sean Tubbs

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