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February 29, 2008

VA Supreme Court decision limits taxing authority for transportation

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The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that the General  Assembly overstepped its constitutional authority when it gave the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) the power to raise taxes to fund transportation projects.

NVTA was given the power to levy fees and taxes as part of 2007’s landmark transportation legislation, HB 3202. One of the other major elements of the bill, raising hundreds of millions of dollars through abusive driving fees, will be overturned this year by the General Assembly itself after significant public outcry. That puts the ball back in the court of state and local governments as they continue to search for ways to raise additional funding for road and transit projects. Last week, VDOT’s CFO announced that road construction funds will be down as much as 44% over the next six years.

Under the enabling legislation, NVTA gained the power to impose seven regional taxes and fees, including additional licensing fees and a local sales tax, effective the first of this year. Based on that, the Authority passed a resolution authorizing the sale of $130 million in bonds which would be paid down through the tax revenue.

The court case originated when the Authority sought confirmation from the Circuit Court of Arlington County that bonds it planned to issue would be valid. The Loudon County Board of Supervisors as well as Delegate Bob Marshall filed to oppose the certification, but the Circuit Court ruled last summer in favor of the Authority. Marshall appealed on the basis that NVTA is a political subdivision whose members are not directly elected, and thus the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated its power to raise taxes. NVTA’s lawyers argued that the General Assembly retained the power to set the rates and could amend them at any time.

“We consistently have held that when the primary purpose of an enactment is to raise revenue, the enactment will be considered a tax,” wrote Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn in the ruling. Goodwyn concluded that because NVTA had the final decision on whether or not to impose the taxes and fees, the General Assembly had in fact delegated its power to tax. The ruling then points to several reasons how the power to tax is specifically reserved to the General Assembly, including Article I, Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution which reads in part:

“that all men . . . cannot be taxed . . . without their own consent, or that of their representatives duly elected . . . “

The ruling also cites Article VII, Section 7, which reads in part:

“No ordinance . . . imposing taxes . . . shall be passed except by a recorded affirmative vote of a majority of all members elected to the governing body.”

The General Assembly can grant cities and counties the power to levy taxes, but the ruling states NVTA is not itself a political jurisdiction. “NVTA is a political subdivision narrowly charged by the General Assembly with the responsibility of addressing certain regional transportation issues in the Northern Virginia localities it encompasses,” wrote Justice Goodwyn.

Any taxes already raised by NVTA are null and void.

In February, the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors directed the
Thomas Jefferson Planning District Council to continue with efforts to seek enabling authority
from the General Assembly to create a similar transportation funding mechanism for both localities.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he would be watching to see how the General Assembly fixes the legislation.  “It’s a decision more of form than substance,” he said in a phone interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. He said the proposed regional transportation plan for this area might include language that assigns the power to raise additional taxes to the City Council and County Supervisors, rather than to the proposed transit or transportation authority.

“I’ve read the opinion a couple of times, and I don’t think this prevents a regional transportation authority, “ Rooker said. “We’ll just have to do it in a way that complies with the ruling.”

Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25) issued a statement about the ruling that indicated he may seek an increase in the gas tax.

"The decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Virginia today invalidating the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority's taxing ability granted by the General Assembly sends a clear and unmistakable message to legislators in Richmond. We will not solve the transportation challenges facing us if we continue to pass the buck and shirk our responsibilities to lead.”

Sean Tubbs

February 28, 2008

VDOT pledges to speed up Advance Mills replacement project; temporary bridge cancelled

Vdotam The current Advance Mills bridge was closed in April 2007 (Image source: VDOT)

The Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has directed his staff to abandon a project to build a temporary replacement of the Advance Mills bridge on Route 743 in Northern Albemarle County. In a statement, David S. Ekern said his agency will speed up the process of installing a permanent bridge, something he said could be accomplished “no later than spring 2010.”

VDOT closed the bridge in April of last year due to safety concerns, and officials initially planned both a temporary replacement as well as a permanent one. Currently, residents of that section of the County have to take a long detour if they want to travel south. The temporary bridge was to have been built at the site of the existing bridge, and the new permanent bridge was to be relocated up river.

However, VDOT has now essentially combined the two projects into one, according to VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter. Because the permanent bridge will be built on the site of the existing bridge, the agency no longer has to plan for an entirely new roadway and bridge, resulting in a savings of $2 million.

The permanent replacement is now expected to be in place by early 2010 with a preliminary cost estimate of $3 million. The new bridge will also be a prefabricated steel truss bridge, and will be built on the current right-of-way.

Vdotsim
The new bridge will look like this one in Amelia County, according to VDOT (Image source: VDOT)

VDOT says it will resemble the existing bridge in order to maintain “the characteristics of the historic Advance Mills area.”  The bridge will now also be two-lane, as opposed to one, which will require the approaches on either side to be widened.

In a letter to Board Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna), VDOT Commissioner David Ekern said funding for this solution is secured.

“VDOT is committing to an aggressive design and construction schedule to restore full access for motorists as quickly as possible,” Ekern said.  Until then, VDOT will make repair the main detour, Durrett Ridge Road, within 60 days.

According to the project schedule on VDOT’s Advance Mills website, the timeline is to complete the federally required environmental assessment process by June 2008, and to advertise for construction bids in January 2009. The estimated window for project completion is late fall 2009 to spring 2010. A design public hearing will be held this summer.

When complete, the bridge is expected to have the capacity to carry public safety vehicles and school buses, something that VDOT said has not been allowed since the early 1970’s when the bridge weight limit was reduced to 8 tons. 

Sean Tubbs

Office building moves forward for busy intersection on Hydraulic Rd

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The plan for construction of a two-story office building at the southwest corner of the intersection of Hydraulic and Georgetown Roads has received the support of the Albemarle County Planning Commission.  At their meeting on February 19, 2008, the Commission recommended approval of Keith Woodard’s rezoning request.

20080219woodard2
Intersection of Hydraulic and Georgetown Roads.  Photo: Albemarle County

While very close to Albemarle High School and a densely populated neighborhood area, Woodard's parcel is actually located in the County’s rural area and is currently zoned for commercial use.  Staff recommended approval of the rezoning to Neighborhood Model District in part because the proposed use is less intensive than what current zoning allows.

The 20,000 sq. ft. commercial building will have two stories visible from the road and a third story visible from the parking area at a basement level behind the building.

“We feel, as do many of our neighbors, that this use is more desirable than the convenience store and gas pumps [for which] the property is currently zoned,” said Woodard.  He informed the Commission that half of the 1 acre property would be left in conservation or preservation areas and that a vegetated buffer at the rear of the parking lot would be protected and enhanced with new plantings. Woodard has also committed to a “green building” and proffered to submit evidence of LEED certification. 

20080219woodard4_2 Woodward said his primary goal is to sell office space for law firms, insurance companies, and other similar professional users.  He said he could not rule out some small retail shops that would support the offices.

“I think this design is a great improvement over what would otherwise be there by-right,” said Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio District).  “I drive by this corner every day.  I would much prefer to see this development than the other development, and frankly [I would] much prefer to see this to what is there now, which is a vacant lot and an eye sore and not used or useful to anybody.”

The Commission’s vote to recommend approval was unanimous (7-0) and the rezoning will come before the Board of Supervisors on March 19, 2008.

Brian Wheeler

February 27, 2008

Planning Commission suggests keeping second Mall Crossing as is

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The Charlottesville Planning Commission has endorsed keeping the second vehicular crossing in its current location on 4th Street NE. They will officially vote on the issue at their next regular meeting on March 11, 2008, though the item is likely to be put on the consent agenda.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080225-CPC-Mall-Crossing.mp3

The second crossing was opened as a year-long pilot project in May 2006. After the experiment, Council voted in June 2007 to make the temporary crossing permanent, but directed staff and the Planning Commission to revisit whether 4th Street was the most appropriate crossing.

The Commission’s endorsement came during a work session held on February 26, 2008. The Commission voted 4-3 in December to continue the second crossing, but left open the question of whether the crossing should be moved one street over to 5th Street NE.  The Commission was also directed by City Council to consider the possibility of reversing the flow of traffic. The second crossing currently travels southbound on 4th Street E.

After sorting through more than a year’s worth of pedestrian counts and studying the various alternatives, staff recommended keeping the 4th Street crossing, and keeping direction flowing southbound because of the proven safety record of the arrangement. Angela Tucker, Charlottesville’s Development Services Manager, told the Commission there had been no accidents since the opening of the crossing. Additionally, re-orienting the flow of traffic would mean traffic lights on Market Street might have to be shifted.

20080226tucker

Angela Tucker explains the reasoning behind staff's recommendation to keep 4th Street as the second crossing

Tucker wrote in her staff report that the cost of either option would be approximately $700,000. Work to upgrade the crossing and to move overhead utilities underground will coincide with the Downtown Mall renovation project.

During the discussion, none of the six Commissioners present supported making any  changes. Even though he voted against the second crossing in December, Commissioner Mike Farruggio said he thought there would be a public outcry if traffic flow is reversed.

One Commissioner  asked if there would be a curb on the mall, but Tolbert said there would not be. If anything, the vehicular crossing will likely be slightly elevated above the mall to signal to motorists that they are driving in pedestrian space.

Commissioners also discussed ways to stop vehicles from stopping and parking in the middle of 4th Street. Many delivery trucks use the space, even though the Mall is not a loading zone. Tolbert said a downtown parking study is underway that will include suggestions on how to improve delivery to vendors on the Mall.

Council will make the final decision at a meeting later this year.

Sean Tubbs

February 26, 2008

RWSA to advertise rate increases; Camelot treatment facility to get $385k

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At their meeting on February 25, 2008, the Board of Directors of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) voted to approve the preliminary rate schedule for water and wastewater. The rates are included as part of the RWSA’s proposed operating budget. Under state law, the RWSA has to advertise the new rates at least sixty days before a public hearing. The RWSA Board will adopt the budget on May 19, after that public hearing.

The two City representatives to the Board were not present at the February 25 meeting.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080225-RWSA-full.mp3

On water, the RWSA is proposing to charge the City $2.285 per 1000 gallons, an increase of 2.65 percent over last year. The Albemarle County Service Authority would be charged $2.983 per 1000 gallons, an increase of 2.44 percent. These increased rates help cover the debt service required to pay for the expansion of Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

“That number is a less than what I think a number of people had anticipated,” said Tom Frederick, the executive director of the RWSA.

However, wastewater rates will increase more because the RWSA is planning on several capital upgrades to its sewer infrastructure. On wastewater, the RWSA is proposing to charge the City $2.466 per 1000 gallons, a 10.43% increase. The County’s proposed charge is $2.722 per 1000 gallons, an increase of 10.54%. 

“We continue to be in an upward cycle for capital improvements, driven by a number of things including tighter regulations at the state and federal level, the need to rehabilitate many areas of our system that are wearing out, and the need to provide future planning for capacity needs,” Frederick said.

Frederick said his engineering team is in the middle of identifying the extent of renovations that will need to be made, including study of the various interceptors. A final cost for the state mandated upgrades to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will not be determined until later this year. (See below for details). One other costly task that factors into the higher rates is a project to clean one of two wet-weather storage tanks that have not been cleaned since the plant opened in 1972.

One item cut from the operating budget is a $150,000 bathymetric study of South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to determine the levels of sediment. Frederick said the last time that was conducted was in 2002.

The Board had been expected to consider the Capital Improvement Program at the February meeting, but two new developments forced Frederick to postpone that item until March. First, the RWSA was able to schedule a time to meet with Woolen Mills residents to further discuss odor control mitigation plans, which could be fairly expensive depending on the level of control. Second, the engineering firm responsible for the design of upgrades to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has significantly raised the cost estimate.

By 2011, Virginia state law requires the plant to be reengineered to reduce the amount of nutrients that are released into the Rivanna River as part of the wastewater treatment process. The firm Hazen and Sawyer is conducting the design for the upgrades, which were estimated to cost $35.4 million when Hazen and Sawyer completed its preliminary engineering work. Now that the design is 30% complete, the cost estimate has been raised to $41 million to reflect both the increased scope of the project as well as engineering choices the RWSA has made.

Uv_2
The upgraded Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will use ultraviolet rays as a disinfecting tool

Janice Carroll of Hazen and Sawyer presented the revised cost estimates the Board. She said two engineering decisions have contributed to the increase. First, a decision to include ultraviolet rays in the disinfection process will cost an additional $500,000. Second, she said the engineering infrastructure is inadequate and cannot handle additional equipment such as the UV. Carroll gave the RWSA three alternatives ranging from $5.25 million to $6.34 million.

However, a variable could raise the cost even more. According to Carroll, the RWSA had a sharp increase in the amount of ammonia detected in the influent process. While the cause of the problem has not yet been determined, Hazen and Sawyer has concluded that additional treatment capacity could be required to reduce the nutrients. Carroll said an additional aeration basin may be required, which could cost as much as $4 million, but she added that the WQIF grant may cover half of that cost.

Costcomparison
A chart included in Hazen and Sawyer presentation that plots the rising cost of construction

Finally, Carroll said the cost of construction is sky-rocketing, and not just because of rising material costs. Approximately 90 other wastewater treatment plants in the state also need to be upgraded, which Carroll said is causing a shortage of both qualified bidders as well as skilled workers.

More cost estimate will be given when the plant redesign reaches the 60% and 90% marks. The plant redesign will be submitted for state approval at the 90% mark, which could happen in September.  Carroll said she did not expect those benchmarks to yield similar sharp increases. Additional costs for odor mitigation have not been factored into the 30% estimate.

The Moores Creek plant upgrades are not expected to be completed until 2013. The new regulations go into effect on January 1, 2011, and the RWSA will purchase credits

Camelot upgrades

The RWSA Board also approved the allocation of $385,000 in the current CIP for upgrades to the Camelot Wastewater Treatment Plant, an aging facility which serves Albemarle’s northern growth area. Robert Wichser, the RWSA’s Director of Water and Wastewater, explained to the Board that the existing facility cannot take any additional new sewer capacity.

The RWSA took control of the facility in the early 1990’s after it was designed and paid for by several landowners in the area. Since taking over the plant, RWSA has made two changes to its operations in order to stay within state guidelines. First, a decision was made to convert one of the two treatment “trains” into a holding tank in order to accommodate surges in use during peak times. Second, techniques added last year to improve the treatment also reduced the capacity.

The Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) has agreed to contribute the funds to provide for additional capacity so that certain projects in the area can go forward. These include expansions of the Briarwood subdivision, the North Fork Research Park, and Wendell Wood’s commercial offices near the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC). The bulk of the money will go to construct a ‘flow equalization basin.”

However, these upgrades will only be temporary, and Wichser said Camelot will be decommissioned as soon as the ACSA completes work on a new regional pump station to transport wastewater to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Other buildings and developments not already tied into Camelot, like the proposed Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) facility adjacent to NGIC and the North Pointe development, will be expected to wait for the new pump station.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

00:54 - Executive Director Tom Frederick's monthly report
02:47 - Discussion of the proposed operating budget for FY2008-09
12:30 - Update from Hazen and Sawyer on upgrades of Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
36:50 - Budget request for $385,000 to increase sewer capacity at Camelot Wastewater Treatment Plant

Sean Tubbs

February 25, 2008

City, County and University hold first PACC meeting of 2008

Pacclong

The Planning and Coordination Council is a body made up of two City Councilors, two members of the Board of Supervisors, and top officials at the University of Virginia. The group gets together four times a year to discuss planning issues that involve all three entities. Last year, the meeting was cancelled twice.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080221-PACC.mp3

In 2008, the University of Virginia is hosting these meetings. The first meeting was held on February 21, and began with a discussion of the Fontaine Avenue/Sunset Connector, a proposed road to link the University’s Fontaine Research Park with the County’s southern urbanized area. The University of Virginia Foundation has asked the County to rezone the research park to more than double the amount of currently allowed construction and for permission to build three parking garages. That rezoning is currently under review by the County Planning Commission.

David Benish, the County’s Chief Planner, said U.Va has commissioned a traffic study that models several development scenarios, including development of the nearby Granger property. The Granger tract is a 69-acre parcel of undeveloped land to the southwest of the Fontaine Research Park. The Virginia Department of Transportation is currently reviewing the results of a meeting at which University, City and County officials met to discuss the scope of the Fontaine Avenue/Sunset Connector which would traverse both properties. 

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) pointed out that the Granger property’s Comprehensive Plan designation was changed in 2007, and asked if the traffic study would reflect the higher amount of development allowed. Benish said the comprehensive plan amendment was written in such a way to restrict development subject to the road network being able to absorb the extra traffic, and that the traffic study will model several development scenarios. He said County staff have had preliminary conversations with the owner of the Granger property, but that there is no timeline for a rezoning.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris asked Benish for an estimate on how much money would be needed to build the road. Benish said he did not have an updated cost estimate for the full extent of the road. He said the major cost would be a bridge to cross the railroad, and added that the County has currently set aside no money for the project, though it is a priority on the County’s Secondary Six Year Plan, and thus eligible for state funding. The Board of Supervisors was given an estimate of $12.8 million when it was discussing the comprehensive plan amendment last year. Rooker said that the Biscuit Run rezoning includes proffer money to help pay for the road, but the County won’t receive the money until building permits are issued for construction. With the current decline in the housing market, that isn’t expected to occur for some time. State funding for road construction is also expected to be significantly down for the next several years.
UVa Chief Operating Officer Leonard Sandridge said he thought it would be a very expensive project. “There’s a lot of bridging to go in that area,” he said.

Norris said he hoped all the parties could work together to build some version of the road. “The volume of traffic that we’re projecting will otherwise impact our residential neighborhoods,” Norris said.

Ltach
The building in red marks the location for UVa's planned Long-Term Acute Care Hospital

The PACC also discussed the future of the UVa Medical Center’s Northridge fa cility on Route 250 between Ivy and Charlottesville. The plan is to build a Long Term Acute Care Hospital (LTACH) at the site in order to free up beds at the hospital’s main campus. “This is a key step in our efforts to try to accommodate what has become a very heavy patient load that we’re experiencing in our hospital system,” Sandridge said. When built, the LTACH will be designed to house patients who need to stay in the hospital for several weeks.

The hospital may also play a role in the expansion of the region’s public safety infrastructure. Thomas Harkins, the Medical Center’s Facilities Planning and Capital Development Administrator, said he has been having conversations with the County about using some of the warehouse space to build a fire station. On a somewhat related note, the University is also considering leasing space in the Fontaine parking garages to the Charlottesville Fire Department for their new facility there.

Ed Howell, the CEO of the UVa Medical Center, said he hoped to break ground as quickly as possible, and is shooting for late May/early June. He estimates an 18 month construction period. Howell also said the majority of the staff at the new hospital would be new employees because different skills are required.

The meeting concluded with a presentation of environmental sustainability initiatives underway in the City, the County and the University of Virginia. Julia Monteith, UVa’s Senior Land Use Planner, said one milestone is that all new construction and renovations of existing buildings will be performed to LEED standards. Kristen Riddevold, the City’s Environmental Coordinator, remarked that all three jurisdictions are members of the U.S. Green Building Council, which means they are using the same benchmarks for sustainable building. The County’s first building to be submitted for LEED certification will be the new library in Crozet, according to County Environmental Compliance Manager Sarah Temple. For about 45 minutes, the trio talked efforts to improve stream quality, provide transportation choices besides driving, and recycling goals.

Rooker said he was pleased to see a status report from all three jurisdictions. “This presentation makes me feel proud to be a citizen of this area,” he said. “I kind of know what’s going on in the County, but to see it all together is impressive.”

Under other business, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) asked if the University would be open to the concept of using the former Blue Ridge Hospital to satisfy the County’s need for land that can be used for light industrial purposes. Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel  Miller) made this suggestion at a recent Board meeting.  Sandridge said that property has strict usage restrictions, but that he would take a look at the idea.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 1:00 - Introduction from Leonard Sandridge, and approval of minutes from August 16, 2007 meeting
  • 1:50 – Discussion of Sunset/Fontaine Connector
  • 10:13 – Presentation of UVa’s proposed Long Term Acute Care Hospital
  • 23:04 – Presentation of the Joint Environmental Sustainability efforts
  • 1:10:12 – Other business, agenda setting for future meetings

Sean Tubbs

February 22, 2008

Water supply plan hotly debated

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      Panelists at the ASAP monthly meeting entitled "Waterproofing A growing Community:  Designs for our future water supply."  (L to R: Rich Collins; Kevin Lynch; Tom Frederick; and Jeff Werner)

The fissures forming between those who support the community’s 50-year water supply plan and those who do not were on full display Thursday evening at Westminster Presbyterian Church.  The questions before a panel at the Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population’s monthly meeting: Do we have water supply plan that literally holds water?  Is it the best plan for our community?

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080221-ASAP-Water.mp3

The topic made news last week as the community learned that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has approved a permit for the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir as well as a new pipeline connecting it to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  These are the two major components of the water supply plan approved unanimously by Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in mid-2006.

On February 21, 2008, four people who have been among those most heavily involved in the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s (RWSA) development of the water supply plan shared their perspectives with an audience of about twenty-five ASAP members and local residents.  Supporters of the plan included panelists Jeff Werner, a Field Officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), and Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the RWSA.  Opponents of the plan were represented by former City Councilor Kevin Lynch and ASAP co-founder Rich Collins, both members of the newly formed Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan.

ASAP President Jack Marshall outlined the importance of water in the life of a community.  “There is…an inextricable connection between a community’s or a society’s supply of water and its population growth and well being…. It’s tempting to try to restrict the availability of water as a tool to limit growth.  ASAP however has never proposed such a strategy.  On the other hand, we are reluctant to see a water supply system built that allows for huge numbers of more than the anticipated population growth in the foreseeable future of our community.”  ASAP believes Charlottesville and Albemarle should define an optimal sustainable population size or range and make land use decisions that allows it to level off at a stationary size.  That population should determine the amount of water required.

Each panelist was given an opportunity to make opening remarks and then Marshall, as moderator, gave them an opportunity to contest each other’s statements.  This format generated a feisty exchange of views that lasted for over two hours and left numerous audience members frustrated that their questions were not asked or fully answered.

Werner described the community of environmental organizations that worked together in 2005-06 to champion the alternative to a pipeline to the James River.  The focus of this group was to develop a local watershed solution that would “drought proof” the public water supply and accommodate expected population growth during the next 50 years.

Frederick described a “thorough” public input process that led to the community’s adoption of a preferred water supply plan.  He described the RWSA’s goal of marrying compliance with state and federal requirements to the wishes of the community as to how to best use its natural resources.  He noted that the April 2006 public meeting at which the “Ragged Mountain Alternative” was selected was “almost a love fest.”  “There was a feeling that the community had finally, after 30 years of talking about [it], there was a feeling in the room that it was the right plan,” said Frederick.

Kevin Lynch was on City Council when he voted in favor of the water supply plan.  In an April 2006 message to his constituents, Lynch wrote: “I believe that the preferred alternative which Rivanna has developed shows that they have seriously considered and responded to community input. The plan is a phased expansion of the Ragged Mountain dam, ultimately to be connected via pipeline to the South Fork. Personally, I still have a few questions about the details of cost and phasing, but I think the overall concept is sound, is one the community can support, and can be quickly and economically implemented.”

Less than two years later, Lynch told the audience that he is now concerned that much of the flexibility and phasing of the plan has been lost in favor of an approach that would build the new Ragged Mountain Dam all at once.  Lynch says he prefers an incremental approach to the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir so that the community can revaluate its needs in future years before building the dam to its full height. 

Frederick said a phased approach for the dam would cost the community at least an additional $2-3 million and that the engineering models indicate the first phase would have to raise the reservoir pool 42 of the ultimate 45 feet to meet DEQ requirements.  That is if the pipeline connecting the reservoirs is not built simultaneously.  Frederick said three phasing and financing options for the different components are still very much a matter on which the Authority it taking public feedback.

Rich Collins, a former Chairman of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority before Frederick was hired, told the audience that he wanted to persuade them that he was not just a ‘no-growther,’ but one of the most informed individuals in the state on water and land use matters.  “I don’t care how many meetings [Frederick] held…Don’t build that dam at that height and tear down the existing dam until we have looked more carefully at the issues of dredging and reducing sediment inflow and in other ways using what is already a significant natural resource which we have paid for.”

Collins said environmentalists in 2005-06, including himself, mobilized themselves to ensure that the plan did not include a pipeline to the James River.  When that option was ruled out, “our critical faculties declined, our consensus evaporated.”  According to Collins, the environmental groups were adrift in a fog of celebration when they lost sight of dredging requirements and the opportunities to repair the Ragged Mountain Dam instead of replacing it.

At one point, Marshall let the panel debate phasing plans, rate increases, and the costs of financing the plan’s goals. Collins indicated he was willing to pay his fair share for infrastructure repairs.  “I am not crazy about paying for the costs of growth, I think growth should pay for itself.” 

Collins said the priorities were pretty clear to him.  “First of all, maintain and improve the infrastructure which we have ignored, for whatever reason, first.  And that’s already on the schedule and the City has to pay a lot more of it than the County.” 

Collins also suggested upgrading the system can satisfy multiple agendas.  Speaking to Frederick, Collins said, “It’s not clear to me Tom sometimes when you use the word ‘upgrade,’ whether you’re talking about expanding it to accommodate new growth or whether you think it is mostly the deterioration of existing structures. I think that is an important issue for everyone in this community to know.”

Werner said he was troubled by the suggestion that the plan would harm the environment.  “The thing I am most troubled by in this discussion, is that there seems to be, and I’ll put it bluntly, some objectives of people who are arguing against what’s been adopted [presenting this as] being environmentally irresponsible.”  Werner said if the community wants an “ecologically superior plan,” he encouraged them to work towards not only dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir but also taking steps to reduce the inflow of sediment.  “That would mean this community spending more money, just like New York City did, to invest in protecting the watershed of its water supply,” said Werner. “What I hear is this argument of ‘we shouldn’t do this’ being masked in ‘this is not environmentally sustainable,’ but then correspondingly ‘but I don’t want to pay for it….’ Is this about money?  Is this about growth?  Is this about environmental issues?”

Frederick stressed that the RWSA is still open to public input and always will be.  “If there are ideas about how we can implement our plan that make the implementation better…we certainly want to hear it.”

Members of the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan have encouraged RWSA to take a second look at dredging to regain additional capacity from South Fork which was built in 1966 before cutting any trees for reservoir expansion at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.  South Fork is losing approximately 1% of its capacity each year due to siltation. “Its simply not acceptable…for us to just let the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir silt up,” said Lynch.  Lynch argued that the current water plan does nothing about this problem.  Lynch also said he was skeptical of the RWSA consultant’s recommendations which led to the ruling out of dredging as uneconomical.  He said he couldn’t find any evidence that Gannet Flemming did dredging.  “They do dozens of pipelines and dozens of dams.  That’s what they do.  They are a dam and pipeline company.”

Frederick defended Gannet Flemming’s expertise.  “There’s been a lot of discussion in this community suggesting Gannet Fleming may not be qualified to study dredging.  I take strong issue with that.  I think people making those comments don’t know Gannet Flemming as a firm. You don’t understand the full capabilities of an engineering firm by looking at a page on a website….They are a capable qualified firm.  If this community wants to get another opinion, that’s the option of this community.”

In response to an audience comment, Lynch said the RWSA should consider dredging in conjunction with a system to prevent sediment from reaching South Fork.  Lynch suggested it would be quite straightforward to collect sediment dropped by a bend in the river upstream.  “It makes more sense to catch the sediment before it gets to the reservoir than it does to pull the sediment out. You don’t have to do that by slapping regulations on farmers and developers though.  Quite a lot of the sediment can be [removed] with sediment traps at the upstream part of the reservoir.  Rivanna hasn’t even looked at that.  It’s well known when, as a river…goes around a bend, it slows down and drops sediment load.  Ask Charlie Hurt who used to have a sand mining operation on the bend at Pantops.”

Frederick agreed that it was common sense to want to stop the sediment from coming in because otherwise with dredging “you would be digging a hole that keeps filling up.”  Frederick however said removing existing sediment would require a trap the size of the existing reservoir.  “The unfortunate reality and where I don’t quite agree totally with Kevin…once erosion occurs and sediment gets in the stream it’s not that easy to build traps to get it out.  You have to slow the movement of the water down so the material settles out.  For fine material that takes a very very wide area because the velocity has to be extremely slow.  The reservoir acts as a catchment for a lot of sediment now… to build a trap you are basically building another reservoir.  If the community is going to commit to removing the sediment, there is much less environmental impact by removing the sediment where it is in the reservoir now, than building another reservoir that would be similar in size to South Fork upstream.”

Lynch argued for the community to take its time evaluating all the options.  “We have a duty to responsibly plan for a water supply of the future….We don’t have a crisis going on right now.  We had the worst drought we have ever had in 2002 and during that time we didn’t even use one-third of our [reserve] water capacity.”  Lynch pointed the finger at local officials who he thinks have characterized this as a crisis.  “Unfortunately government bureaucrats since ‘9-11’ have learned that if you alarm the public sufficiently, you can get them to pay for just about anything no matter how stupid it is.  And unfortunately that is where we are right now.  This plan is not the best plan we can put forward.”

“Everyone is entitled to their opinions…” said Frederick.  “It’s not true to say that only a third of the reservoir space was used during the 2002 drought.  Our own records show that in mid-October of 2002 we were at 50%....There was only 60 days of supply before this community completely ran out….I haven’t mentioned the word ‘crisis’ tonight, I have mentioned ‘sound planning.’”

At the conclusion of the panel, Frederick reflected on the community’s penchant for studying problems.  “There’s a lot of smart people in this community and we have a lot of things to be thankful for and a lot of nice resources.  But one of the things that I hear from folks is that we tend to plan things and then re-plan things and re-plan things and we are not very good at actually implementing things.  Sometimes that can be a good thing, but sometimes if you do too much planning and avoid implementing solutions it can be a hindrance to a community.  I think this has been very well studied with a lot of input from a lot of people.”

Brian Wheeler

 

VDOT projecting 44% decrease in road construction money

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VDOT's Chief Financial Officer, Reta Busher

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s top financial official is projecting a 44% average reduction in the amount of money available for road construction projects in the next six years. That applies to funding for projects for primary, urban and secondary roads. The news was presented to the CTB this week by Reta Busher, the Chief Financial Officer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Transportation revenue “continues to slow” according to Busher’s report. The six-year revenue outlook shows a $1.1 billion reduction in what had been expected. The number had expected to be $20.4 billion, but the figure has been reduced to $19.3 billion.  VDOT’s revised six-year forecast reflects the pending repeal of the abusive driver fees, as well as reductions in both sales and use taxes. Recordation, vehicular license fees, and other taxes are also expected to be down as a result of a slower economy.

Roads will not be the only transportation modality to be affected by the cuts. Funding specifically designated for transit projects is expected to decline by 10 percent, and funding for rail will be flat.

Under Virginia state law, the formula that allocates the state revenues for transportation projects places new road construction last. Road maintenance, matches to federally-funded projects, and debt service come first. Busher told the CTB that because of the increasing cost of maintenance, there will not be enough money for construction projects as soon as FY 2016.

The Richmond Times Dispatch has reported that VDOT Commissioner David Ekern has directed staff to complete projects underway before embarking on new ones.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on March 12 to discuss how to spend its share of the secondary road funding. For several years, the County has directed that money to three projects: its portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway, improvements on Georgetown Road, and an improvements along Jarman’s Gap Road in Crozet. All three projects have faced significant delays in part because of the time it takes to collect enough funding while staying ahead of project inflation costs. 

An increasingly frustrated Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is now discussing taking over from VDOT construction of Georgetown Road and Jarman’s Gap Road.  Under VDOT’s “local administration” program, VDOT would handle the right of way issues while the County expedites construction with its own engineers and contractors.

Sean Tubbs and Brian Wheeler

February 21, 2008

CTS ridership up, MPO alarmed by VDOT project tracking changes

The MPO Policy Board held its monthly meeting on February 20, 2008. Highlights include an update on the Charlottesville Transit Service, a discussion of changes to the Virginia’s State Transportation Improvement Program, and the presentation of the TravelSmart concept of individualized marketing of transportation choices.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080220-MPO-Regular.mp3

CTS UPDATE

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CTS Director Bill Watterson

“CTS is having a very good year for ridership,” said Bill Watterson, opening up his bi-monthly presentation to the MPO. “We’ve already surpassed a million riders for the year, the earliest we’ve ever done that.” In fact, Watterson says ridership is up 11.5% over the same period last year. He attributes this to the fare-free agreement between the University of Virginia and CTS, increased service on Route 5, and the addition of Sunday service.

The City will be saving money by replacing fewer buses this year, but is purchasing eight 35-foot buses, one 30-foot bus, and one mini-bus. Riders of the free service between downtown and UVa will also see a new low-floor trolley-style vehicle.   

“It will have the cosmetic appearance that is very similar to the trolleys that we currently run,” Watterson said.  The vehicle will not have stairwells, making it easier and quicker for passengers to board.

CTS is proposing several new routes in FY2009, including one between Barracks Road and Downtown via Preston Avenue, and service between Downtown and Charlottesville High School via Park Street. These will be paid for by an increase in funding from the City’s general fund.  Night service on Route 5 could go forward, but only if the County Board of Supervisors authorizes that expenditure. Night service between downtown and the UVa Medical Center will also be added. In next year’s budget, UVa will contribute $55,000 to support the trolley, and $130,000 to allow UVa students and employees to ride CTS buses fare-free.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) wanted to know how the new service to the County Office Building along Route 2B on Fifth Street was doing. Watterson said “it is doing quite fine” and its ridership compares to similar routes with similar service. According to data from CTS, Route 2B has had over 10,000 passengers from July 1, 2007 to the end of January.

Other CTS highlights:

  • The County Architectural Review Board has approved the design of a new CTS facility on Avon Street, with construction to begin in the summer
  • Real-time passenger information system will go live on March 24, with interactive “bus-finder” kiosks at 25 stops
  • CTS is simplifying its transfer process by using a “universal transfer ticket”

MPO discusses changes to State Transportation Improvement Program

The MPO expressed concern over changes to the way in which federal and state transportation agencies track and authorize federal funding of projects.

The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is a list administered by the Virginia Department of Transportation that shows all of transportation-related projects that will receive federal funding in the next four years. Currently, the MPO amends its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) every time federal money is specifically allocated to one of the projects. This check-off also requires a public hearing to be held each time, giving the public the opportunity to weigh in.

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VDOT's Quintin Elliot (right) explains the policy while City Councilor Satyendra Huja (left) and VDOT's John Giometti (center) listen

VDOT has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to allow for the grouping of projects of a similar type in such a way that money could be transferred between these projects without formal approval from the MPO.  For instance, all bridge improvement projects could be listed under one category.

In his report to the Policy Board, Harrison Rue said MPO staff were not able to endorse the policy change out of a concern that the public participation process would be performed in reverse order.

“VDOT intends to conduct the state hearings for SYIP/STIP first, and then give a project list to the MPO for our regional hearings, which appears to be backwards from the current approach,” he wrote. 

“The MPO would be giving up its only federally legislated, mandated power, which is to control whether a project moves forward or not based on its federal funding,” Rue said during the meeting.

Transportation activist Peter Kleeman said he was disconcerted about the forthcoming changes. He said the trend in transportation planning since the early 1990’s has been to let regions decide and implement their own transportation priorities. “It just seems that the proposal is to take this and refocus is top-down with the state doing most of the decision-making for the local region,” Kleeman said.

But VDOT’s John Giometti said the change was intended to streamline the process under which repairs and maintenance projects paid for with federal dollars go forward. By grouping these maintenance projects under one line item, the MPO would not need to be consulted when federal funding is shifted from one project to another. Giometti said this can bog down projects in larger urban areas.

But Rue said that under that scenario, money could conceivably be moved between two competing bridge projects without any local public input. Giometti said that the localities would be contacted in such a situation, and not the MPO. But that the MPO would continue to have a regional influence by creating and maintaining a regional long range plan. Supervisor Slutzky asked if adjoining local jurisdictions could at least receive notification when money is transferred in between projects. Acting Culpeper District Administrator Quintin Elliot said he would pass that comment on.

Regional Transit Authority update

MPO members reviewed the February 11 joint City Council – Board of Supervisors meeting on the Regional Transit Authority.  Supervisor David Slutzky said he thought it was a productive session, though he was concerned media coverage took home the wrong points and focused on the high-end cost of the Bus Rapid Transit system.

Rue pointed out that no formal votes had been taken at the February 11 meeting, and that the main point of the meeting was to discuss the governance structure and what new revenues might be created by the authority.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said the next step would be for a member of City Council and a member of the Board of Supervisors to meet with the City and County attorneys and legislators to craft the enabling legislation for next year’s General Assembly session. Rue said the earliest that meeting could happen would be late April or early May.

TravelSmart proponents make case for individualized transportation marketing

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Randy Salzman

Charlottesville resident and freelance writer Randy Salzman says he has a radical way to increase the amount of people who choose to take public transit: Engage individual households in conversations about their own personal transportation choices.

That’s the basic concept of a program called TravelSmart, a transportation demand management program pioneered by German sociologist Werner Brog. Brog hires people to phone up households to ask if they’ve ever considered taking public transportation. If the person who picks up the phone says no, the conversation ends. But, if the person expresses even lukewarm interest, the TravelSmart worker continues to work with the household to reduce the use of their car by directing them to bus maps, bike trails, and other transportation choices.

Salzman says the approach works, and has already proven to be successful in the four U.S. cities that are piloting the project. For example he says, Bellingham, Washington has seen a 22% increase in transit use, and Sacramento has seen a 42% increase.

Peter Newman, a Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, says the TravelSmart program has reduced “vehice miles travelled” in the western Australian city of Perth by 14 percent. The Perth region has also recently built a commuter rail line that has a 90 percent approval rating among area residents.

Newman said the region now spends more money on transit than roads, a public policy choice supported in part because of the TravelSmart program’s influence on individual choices.

Salzman said the County and City should employ this strategy in order to promote transit, especially with Martha Jefferson Hospital moving to Pantops from Downtown. He said the resulting extra traffic on Free Bridge would create political pressure to build a second bridge. Salzman suggested a targeted TravelSmart-like campaign might convince enough people to use transit to avoid that need.  Dennis Rooker pointed out that the hospital has already proffered money to pay for more capacity on the bus  route to the hospital.

Timeline for podcast:

Note: Charlottesville Tomorrow did not record the scheduled public hearing on UnJAM 2025.

Sean Tubbs

February 19, 2008

Supervisors weighing participation in March IMPACT event

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Father Brian Mulcahy (St. Thomas Aquinas) hosting the October 15, 2007 IMPACT Annual Assembly

In just under a month, the group Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together (IMPACT) will hold its second annual “Nehemiah Action” event at University Hall to find out if members of the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors support initiatives to increase affordable living choices in our region.

However, state law on meetings by public bodies restricts the ability of elected officials to participate in such meetings. The on-stage appearance of more than two Supervisors, or more than two Councilors, would constitute a public meeting. Members of the Board of Supervisors would have to vote on a motion to either schedule or adjourn to a special meeting. A similar process would have to be held for City Council. City Council chose last year to make it an open meeting, and could do so again this year, according to Mayor Dave Norris.

On March 10, IMPACT officials are hoping to seat all 11 elected officials on the state at University Hall. Each has been invited to speak for two minutes on either affordable housing initiatives or dental care issues, the two topics of discussion at the meeting. The term “Nehemiah Action” comes from a passage in the Bible where a man demands action from a large public assembly for wrong-doing by money lenders.
After each elected official has spoken, a representative from IMPACT will ask a yes-or-no question to gauge their support on proposals that will be made available by IMPACT before the event. Any “yes” answer deemed to have too many qualifications will be recorded as a no. 

The Board of Supervisors discussed the IMPACT meeting during their regular meeting on February 13, 2008. At IMPACT’s first action event in March 2007, only two members of the Board were allowed up on stage in order to satisfy the open meetings law. Representing the Board were Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) and Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna). Four City Councilors were able to be on stage because Council decided to hold a special meeting.

“If more than two Board members are going to be there, and there’s going to be participation by Board members, that would constitute a meeting, and you would have to…call a special meeting of the Board,” said County Attorney Larry Davis. The Board opted not to take that approach last year out of a concern they would set a precedent for community organization’s dictating the agenda and meeting times of a public body.

Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) said anything less than full Board participation would be seen as the County ducking its responsibility on social issues. Supervisor Slutzky said he would be fine scheduling a special meeting on March 10, 2008. 

Other supervisors expressed reservations. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he agreed with many of IMPACT’s goals, and would plan to attend the meeting in whatever capacity he could.

“I do not think it is a good precedent to get into a mode of in effect having other groups set an agenda for a Board meeting,” Rooker said. “I don’t think it’s a wise approach to… give answers on matters that involve perhaps millions of dollars of taxpayer money with no staff report, with no interaction among Board members, without hearing from the public. Granted, this group is a component of the public but what they have put together is not a public hearing where people that might not agree with their agenda can get up and speak.”

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said it was awkward to be only able to attend a brief portion of last year’s meeting before her colleagues on the Board were called on-stage, and said she might be open to a special meeting.

Supervisor Slutzky asked if it were possible to convene a special meeting of the Board at U-Hall for the purposes of allowing all to take part. He said that thousands of people would be attending the event, far out-numbering attendance at any Board of Supervisors event. “Is there a process way in which we can go to this meeting, and open it up as a public hearing of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, hear all the things that are said during the course of the evening, and then close the public hearing, and come home?”

Davis said that would be possible, if IMPACT was willing to give space in the event’s agenda to allow the Board to conduct its meeting. But Rooker said that IMPACT’s meeting would not be a public meeting, and that the Board would not be in charge. Slutzky disagreed, and said he thought IMPACT’s meeting was just a different format to a regular Board meeting, where Board members receive public input. Thomas said the difference, however, is that IMPACT expects commitments.

“I think we would have to say we’re not making a commitment, and if they would be happy with that, then that’s one way to proceed,” Thomas said.

Slutzky said he was comfortable saying “yes” to IMPACT’s questions last year, but said he told the crowd that the Board is a six-member body. “I’m not uncomfortable giving them that hedged commitment,” he said. Boyd said he would likely not give a yes or no answer at the meeting, because he said he would not be able to. “The whole idea here is to get us on the record as saying yes or no,” Boyd said.

Davis said the Board could temporarily waive its rule about how it opens and closes meetings in order to participate at the event as a public hearing. If the Board chooses to go this route, they can simply adjourn from the March 5 meeting and agree to reconvene at U-Hall for the special meeting. Minutes would need to taken.

Rooker said part of the problem is that two minutes is not a sufficient amount of time to explain to the public what the Board is doing, and has done. “Some of the issues that IMPACT is dealing with are complex issues that require much more than a two minute discussion in order to properly educate the people who are in the room for the first time,” Rooker said. “In this meeting you’re going to end up having two minutes.”

Rooker said last year’s event was run “like a game show” and at one point, Councilor David Brown’s refusal to say yes led one IMPACT member to jokingly threaten Charlottesville with Biblical destruction. That prompted Slutzky to remark that he thought of IMPACT as a “public voice” and not necessarily as representing a religious viewpoint.

After the Board’s discussion, members of IMPACT spoke during Matters Before the Public to repeat their call for full Board attendance. IMPACT member Susan Bremer said the group is interested in improving the process, and has formed a committee to help the March 10 meeting run more smoothly. “It is our intention to always be respectful and to ultimately present realistic proposals,” Bremer said. These proposals, she said, have been developed “in dialog” with elected officials, and they will get the chance to see the proposals before the March 10 event.

“We understand that this is not an official vote in anyway, rather an indication of a particular decision-maker’s position,” Bremer said. Her comments were followed by IMPACT member and Albemarle County resident Eugene Rader who encouraged Board members to attend. “I urge you, each of you, to be present and to express your stance on affordable housing. Not necessarily money, but how you feel about it,” Rader said.

That prompted Rooker to point out that he could not easily give a two-minute answer to explain that the County has been doing to address the issue. “We are one of the few counties in the state that actually has an affordable housing plan, and has embodied in our Comprehensive Plan affordable housing goals, requiring 15% of [housing units in a rezoning] to be either affordable housing or that comparable contributions be made to affordable housing,” Rooker said. “This Board is very committed to [affordable housing] and I want you to know that.”

Sean Tubbs