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April 07, 2009

Supervisors play annual “shell game” with road priorities; Dickerson Road truss bridge expected to close within 3 years for safety reasons

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By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
April 7, 2009

One of the key transportation goals of the Places29 Master Plan is the extension and improvement of parallel roads to Route 29 North, including Berkmar Drive, Hillsdale Drive, and Dickerson Road.  Dickerson Road runs behind UVA’s North Fork Research Park connecting the airport area to the Briarwood sub-division.  At a transportation work session on April 1, 2009, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors were told by their staff and VDOT that there would be no funding before 2015 for the paving of the unpaved portions of Dickerson Road, that the total cost of the Dickerson Road improvements and two new bridges would be about $12 million, and that the truss bridge over the North Fork of the Rivanna would have to be closed for safety reasons within 2-3 years.  The Supervisors were asked if they wanted to move the $1.8 million in funding they had saved up thus far to a project with a better chance of being completed.

20090401-dickerson Each year, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors reviews and updates the six-year plan for road construction.  Each year, there is little money from the state to apply to any of the twenty-three “strategic priorities.” In past years, the plan included almost seventy projects, but the County has in effect given-up on two-thirds of the list in what Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) calls an annual “shell game.”  Some projects are moved up and down the list, monies are shifted between accounts, all of which has little to no impact on the completion of any given transportation project.  The same projects will be here next year, still idled in the absence of adequate funding. 

20090401-dickerson-bridge
Dickerson Road truss bridge over the North Fork of the Rivanna River.  For safety reasons, VDOT expects to close this bridge within 2-3 years.

Of all the projects on Albemarle’s wish list, only the Meadowcreek Parkway is moving forward.  The other two top priority projects--Jarmans Gap Road and Georgetown Road--have had their start dates pushed back repeatedly and their scopes significantly reduced.  Not only can new roads not be built, existing roads not improved, but a number of bridges are becoming safety concerns.  Several bridges in Albemarle, maintained by the railroad or VDOT, like the single-lane truss bridge on Dickerson Road, are having their load limits downgraded out of safety concerns.  The Advance Mills bridge was closed in 2007 and its replacement is one of the few transportation projects moving forward.

Like game show host Monte Hall waving at three prize showrooms on Let’s Make a Deal, the County’s Chief of Planning, David Benish, asked the Supervisors if they would like to keep their $1.8 million on Dickerson Road or try their luck behind another curtain.  “Leaving the funding on that project,” said Benish, “does not seem like a viable option, unless the County decides to augment state funding.”

Benish tempted the Supervisors instead with the prospect of either improving other unpaved roads or applying the funds to other priorities like the Meadowcreek Parkway or bridge projects.  The Supervisors were warned, however, that choosing the latter option could lead to penalties by the state. 

VDOT’s Charlottesville Residency Administrator, Allan Sumpter, told the Board that future funding could be reduced if the County didn’t use their unpaved road funds for their intended purpose.  That sparked a retort from Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) who pointed out that if the County wasn’t getting any money from the state in the first place, there was nothing they could reduce any further.  Sumpter said that in 2017 the County’s road funding allocation, if there is one, might be penalized by $325,000.

“I am fairly confident, if that were the case, that we would be able to obtain a waiver for having allocated this money to a more necessary project, given the current economic circumstances of the state,” said Rooker.  Sumpter said that waiver would require approval by the General Assembly.

20090401-broomley-bridge
Broomley Road railroad bridge near Ivy Nursery

Rooker advocated for moving the Dickerson Road funds to the replacement of Dry Bridge in Ivy or the Broomley Road railroad bridge near the Ivy Nursery.  According to Rooker, the Broomley bridge has had its capacity reduced to the point fire trucks can no longer use it and a replacement would cost $2-3 million.  Buckingham Branch Railroad is responsible for the maintenance of the bridge, but a complete replacement would have to be paid for by the taxpayers.

Sumpter said the cost of the Broomley bridge replacement would be more than $3 million and the project could not start until 2014 at the earliest as a result.  “We are concerned at that location about the amount of approach work to be done,” said Sumpter.

Slutzky said he was not comfortable with the potential state penalty and suggested that the funds be left on the Dickerson project until it could be revisited next year when the state’s funding circumstances might change.

“The problem we have is those funds sit there and lose value every year,” said Rooker. “That [Dickerson Road] project will not be built in twenty years.”

After Sumpter pointed out that Ivy’s Dry Bridge would be funded by other state bridge money, he explained the challenge and costs related to the upgrade of the two bridges on Dickerson Road.  He said there was little chance these bridges would receive any federal stimulus money because of the low traffic volumes.  Then Sumpter said he needed a decision from the Board that day as to what would be advertised in May for the public hearing on the secondary road plan.

“Based on what I have heard, I would move the money over to the [Broomley Road] bridge and try to get it done,” said Rooker. “There are a lot of safety reasons why something needs to be done for that bridge.”

Slutzky brought the Board of Supervisors back to “curtain A,” and they agreed to leave the $1.8 million on Dickerson Road for now with the recognition that the Broomley Road bridge replacement was now a higher priority and the likely target for a future re-allocation of unpaved road funds.  In the absence of increased funding from VDOT, it also appears the truss bridge on Dickerson Road will be forced to close in the next several years and one parallel road improvement contemplated in the Places29 Master Plan will be unlikely to be completed within its twenty-year planning horizon.

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