An image taken from the presentation given to the MPO Policy Board
At their meeting on December 22, 2008, the MPO Policy Board heard the details of a comprehensive study being conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation on the entire US 29 corridor in Virginia, from the North Carolina border to Gainesville in Prince William County. The MPO also made further adjustments to the UNJAM 2035 transportation plan, endorsed a grant application for the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, and heard updates from area transit agencies.
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VDOT Program Manager Charlie Rasnick is coordinating the US29 study, which he said will be one of the largest studies his agency has ever conducted. He said US 29 is a national highway classified just below the level of an interstate.
“[US 29’s] primary purpose is to carry long-distance travel,” Rasnick said. “But it also serves large volumes of local traffic.” However, reconciling those two purposes has been the primary focus of several previous studies as well as the ongoing Places29 Master Plan in Albemarle County. Rasnick said none of those studies looked at the entire 219 miles of the corridor, and that this corridor study will incorporate the access management elements called for under Places29. That master plan has still not been adopted by the County.
“What we’re trying to do is give an overarching blueprint for the corridor,” Rasnick said. In particular, the study will address ways to make the route more efficient for both long-distance travelers and local traffic. The study will examine different jurisdiction’s policies regarding land use and transportation, and will recommend specific access management plans.
“There may need to be legislation to protect the corridor, and that is to ensure that in the future there is a connection to [land use decisions] through local streets rather than direct access onto Route 29,” Rasnick said. In other words, some stretches of the corridor that are now posted at 60 miles per hour may soon become unsafe because of continued development.
The study will be overseen by Parsons Transportation Group of Virginia, a Richmond-based firm. The Charlottesville office of the Renaissance Planning Group has been subcontracted to assist on land use policy. Project Manager Joe Springer of Parsons, who has experience working on previous studies of US 29, said the study will not involve the collection of new data.
“The focus of this study, as per the direction of [VDOT Commissioner David Ekern], is to facilitate informed conversation,” Springer said. However, he also acknowledged the potential challenges. “This is not a one-size-fit-all solution. We are certainly not naïve enough to come into this thinking we’ll have some monolithic 219-mile cross-section that’s going to work for everybody.”
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) asked what traffic data would be used, pointing out that some officials in Danville and Lynchburg question data that shows that only 12 percent of traffic on US 29 in Charlottesville is through-traffic. Springer responded that data from previous studies would be used, as well as VDOT’s transportation modeling software. However, he said that he wanted to avoid getting “stuck in the mud” on the issue.
“I think there is a fairly good idea that there is some through-traffic through Charlottesville and Albemarle County, but it’s not a huge number,” Springer said. “Probably any improvement we look at whether it’s coming out of Places 29 is going to address both local and through-traffic.” Later on in the meeting, Slutzky said that he did not expect the proposed western bypass to be part of the discussion.
“It has been sufficiently debunked as a viable solution to anybody’s transportation needs,” Slutzky said.
Eight public meetings will be held in February, including one event to be held in the Charlottesville area. That will be followed by more detailed regional planning forums. Initial recommendations will be developed in the summer, to be followed by additional planning forums. A report will be made to the Commonwealth Transportation Board in November 2009.
CTS TRANSIT UPDATE
Ridership on the Charlottesville Transit Service continues to “do very well” according to CTS Director Bill Watterson. CTS provided over 819,000 rides in the fiscal year through November 30, a 12 percent increase on the previous year. Part of the increase is due to expanded service. Night service is now available on Route 5, which runs in a loop around Albemarle County’s northern urban ring. However, CTS’s funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will be cut by $82,000 in this fiscal year.
“At this point in time we are not planning any kind of adjustment,” Watterson said. He added that the CTS is currently enjoying the benefit of lower fuels costs and he hoped the reduction would take care of itself. The real challenge, he said, would involve preparing the budget for FY2010. Next year’s capital budget will include a request to fund the replacement of two replica trolleys.
MPO MEMBERS CONTINUE TO DEBATE NEW PROJECTS FOR UNJAM 2035
The MPO Policy Board concluded their preliminary review of the Fiscally Constrained Long Range Transportation Plan (CLRP) which is part of the UNJAM 2035 process.
For the first time, the MPO has prioritized the order in which grade separated interchanges will be built along US 29. Supervisor Dennis Rooker pointed out that the CLRP’s “Route 29 Corridor Improvements” was vague, and that it would be wise to spell out the community’s priorities. Grade separated interchanges along US 29 are the key elements in the transportation component of Places29. In November, the Rio Road interchange was moved to the CLRP’s vision list, which means that it is being taken out of active consideration due to a lack of funding.
Supervisor Rooker said traffic data shows the Hydraulic Road intersection would be the most effective in reducing congestion. However, the intersection also sits on the border of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. In January 1995, City Council voted down plans to build the interchange, and Rooker sought Council’s opinion on whether they would consent to it being the higher priority.
However, Supervisor David Slutzky made the case that the Rio Road intersection will be impacted by the opening of the Meadowcreek Parkway, meriting a higher priority. After some discussion, the MPO opted to move the Rio Road interchange to the CLRP and to move the Hydraulic Road interchange to the vision list.
In other news:
- Albemarle County Chief Planner David Benish was designated as an official alternate in the case that the County’s elected officials are not present. Juandiego Wade, the County’s transportation engineer, was designated as a second alternate
- MPO endorsed the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center’s Transportation Enhancement Act (TEA) grant to make the facility handicap-accessible. Center President Alexandra Searls said the money would also be used to improve access to the Rivanna River
- MPO endorsed the Regional Transit Authority Draft Final Report written by VHB. The study is the intellectual underpinning of the proposed RTA being formed by the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County
- JAUNT has begun a second route from Buckingham County into Albemarle County. The additional service has been added in part because of demand from employees of the National Ground Intelligence Center, a major employer in northern Albemarle County
- A citizen has made an official request for the Meadowcreek Parkway to be renamed after outgoing Senator John Warner (R-VA). The request is making its way through City and County governments, but the MPO was given a heads-up at this meeting
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
- 1:00 - Supervisor David Slutzky opens the meeting
- 1:30 - David Benish designated as the County's alternative, Juandiego Wade designated as second alternative
- 2:30 - Public hearing for Lewis and Clark Center's request for MPO to endorse $150,000 TEA Grant
- 3:00 - Alexandria Searls and Fran Lawrence of the Lewis and Clark
- 7:36 - Supervisor Dennis Rooker asks how much of the project will involve handicapped access at the Center
- 10:30 - Public hearing comment from Ann Hemingway, current president of the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center
- 12:30 - Public hearing item introduced for adoption of Regional Transit Authority study draft final report
- 14:00 - Public hearing suspended while MPO waits until scheduled 4:30 time - adopts minutes
- 18:00 - VDOT officials begin their presentation
- 30:40 - Slutzky asks if the study will require Albemarle County to limit access to 29
- 32:30 - Slutzky asks if the study will take a look at Places29 Master Plan
- 34:00 - Supervisor Rooker says he anticipates the study will be more about future planning rather than fixing items in the short-term
- 36:15 - Joe Springer of Parsons Transportation Group
- 45:20 - City Councilor Satyendra Huja asks how pedestrian access fits into the study
- 46:00 - Slutzky asks what traffic data is going to be used
- 50:00 - Rooker says that for the study to be worthwhile, everyone will have to work from the same set of facts
- 53:00 - CTS Director Bill Watterson gives an update
- 57:30 - Huja asks how the on-time messaging system is working for CTS
- 58:10 - Councilor Taliaferro asks about CTS' bus replacement/extension process
- 1:01:00 - Slutzky asks how many miles a typical CTS bus travels in a day
- 1:02:30 - Slutzky recommends selling buses to UVA students doing research into electric buses
- 1:04:00 - JAUNT Update from Donna Shaunesey
- 1:07:40 - Discussion begins of UNJAM
- 1:08:30 - MPO's Ann Whitham details a new metric that can be used to model future population growth
- 1:15:30 - Whitham updates Slutzky and Taliaferro on decisions made at November 2008 meeting
- 1:16:30 - MPO discusses project to add bike lanes and sidewalks to commercial section of Old Ivy Road
- 1:20:00 - Slutzky requests eliminating Rio Mills Road from UNJAM 2035 list because it is not a County priority
- 1:25:00 - Rooker asks for Project I-15 (US 29 widening) to specifically refer to an additional north-south lane from South Fork Rivanna River to Airport Road
- 1:26:30 - Rooker asks why full amount for Hillsdale Road Extended ($29 million) is listed; points out much of the cost is from right of way, and that planners anticipate some will be donated
- 1:29:00 - Rooker suggests specifically listing a grade-separated interchange project, prompting discussion
- 1:33:45 - Slutzky asks MPO if they want to prioritize
- 1:38:30 - MPO considers Draft UNJAM 2035 Document Review
- 1:52:45 - MPO reconsiders CLRP after Ann Whitham recalculates amount of potential funding
- 1:57:30 - Huja says he wants non-highway projects prioritized over road projects
- 1:58:30 - Slutzky asks David Benish for information about Hillsdale Drive safety improvement projects
- 1:59:30 - Discussion of other elements on the MPO's Transportation Project Tracking List
- 2:03:00 - Rooker asks if City and County Intelligent Transportation Systems are now in synch
- 2:05:00 - Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum comments on US 29 Corridor Study
- 2:07:00 - Rooker responds to Williamson's remark
- 2:09:45 - Discussion of potential renaming of Meadowcreek Parkway to John Warner