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January 25, 2008

Data said to support Pen Park alignment for Eastern Connector

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Last month, the Eastern Connector Steering Committee asked for more justification for the road project that is proposed to connect Route 29 N to the Pantops area.  At their monthly meeting on January 23, 2008, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) got their first look at two of the answers--Our traffic problems have local origins and one specific Eastern Connector proposal is projected to significantly outperform all the others.  Consultant Lewis Grimm made his case to the MPO that the data shows an alignment of the Eastern Connector in the Pen Park area would have the greatest impact on reducing peak hour traffic volumes on Route 250 at Free Bridge.

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20080123mpoec3aThe City and County are jointly funding an alignment study to determine the Eastern Connector’s preferred location.  From more than a dozen alignment options, the Steering Committee has whittled it down to three different two-lane alternatives.  In late 2007, the public and policymakers expressed skepticism about the benefits any of the alternatives would provide to travel time.  The average improvement was projected to be from 24 seconds to two minutes for a car traveling from Hollymead to Pantops on the Eastern Connector. 

First, Grimm’s firm decided to revisit data collected in 1999 when VDOT conducted an in-depth license plate survey that examined the origin and destination of vehicles at 26 different survey locations in and around Charlottesville.

Grimm reported that the 1999 study showed that traffic was very dispersed in the area.  This runs counter, he said, to the public perception that lots of traffic is trying to get from Route 29 N to I-64 East towards Richmond.  “That’s one of the key findings…other than a few locations it is a fairly dispersed pattern,” said Grimm.  The license plate survey shows that 5% of all vehicle trips are really though trips, those vehicles starting outside the area and finishing outside the area.  Grimm told Charlottesville Tomorrow that this data was reviewed to address the public perception that it was an Eastern Bypass that was needed, and not a new local connector road.

20080123mpo1 Reflecting on the license plate survey, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) described the traffic congestion as a local problem, “Look around the room, the problem is us. It’s not them.  It’s not someone from Greene County.”  Grimm emphasized that the Eastern Connector is a road intended to solve a local problem and not regional traffic flows.

The second major piece of feedback from the public was concern that the data did not show what would happen to traffic congestion during rush hour periods.  So a team of transportation engineers in PBS&J’s Atlanta office was called upon to examine the local traffic model and calculate what impact each Eastern Connector alignment would have during peak traffic volumes.  Grimm said he wanted to put his firm’s experience in other urban areas to use on the Charlottesville data.  “We decided to look through our library and find adjustment factors that would give us a reasonable estimate of the peak hour movements.”

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Based upon this work, Grimm reported to the MPO that, of the three alignment alternatives, the Pen Park option would remove the most traffic, 13.6% of the volume projected to be at Free Bridge on Route 250 in the year 2025.  Travel time savings during rush hour have not yet been calculated.  Without the new road, traffic volumes there are projected to grow from 48,210 vehicles per day in the year 2005 to 68,340 vehicles per day in the year 2025, or a 41.8% increase.

The next public meeting of the Eastern Connector Steering Committee is scheduled for February 8, 2008 where they are expected to receive a similar presentation.

Brian Wheeler

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