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April 24, 2009

MPO considers Hydraulic Road grade-separation and Leonard Sandridge Road extension during UNJAM 2035 discussion

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20090422-MPO

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, April 24, 2009

At their meeting on April 22, 2009, the MPO Policy Board debated last-minute changes to the UNJAM 2035 plan, received updates from area transit agencies, and heard a report from the head of VDOT’s Culpeper District on what projects could receive funding from various stimulus initiatives being implemented by the federal government.

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COUNCILOR TALIAFERRO REQUESTS PRIORITIZING SOUTHERN PARKWAY

The MPO Policy Board is required by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to adopt a long-range transportation plan by May. The document is actually a five-year review of the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM) and the update has been overseen by Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) staff since last year. Projects in the plan have been vetted by the MPO’s two subcommittees as well as the MPO itself. However, various stakeholders in the community continue to request the reordering of some items on the fiscally constrained long-term plan (CLRP). 

20071210southernparkway_2 Source: VDOT

The CLRP represents projects that have some hope of receiving funds between now and 2035. A vision list specifies projects that are desired by the community, but funding possibilities are more remote.
Charlottesville City Councilor Julian Taliaferro began the MPO’s April 2009 discussion by saying he would like the Southern Parkway near Albemarle’s Mill Creek neighborhood to be restored as an active project on UNJAM 2035’s fiscally constrained long-range plan.

The project was moved to UNJAM’s vision list in part because the developers of the nearby Fifth and Avon Center are responsible for building a new road, to be known as the Bent Creek Parkway, to connect Fifth Street Extended and Avon Street. Taliaferro said he wanted the project made active because it would increase fire and rescue response times. He also expressed concern that construction of the Southern Parkway was constantly being pushed back.

“It’s in the graveyard for all practical purposes as far as I’m concerned,” Taliaferro said.
In order for any project to be added or moved to the CLRP, another project must be moved to the vision list. Mac Lafferty of the CHART Committee suggested moving a project to enhance Proffit Road  from the CLRP to the vision list because the two have similar cost estimates. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said the improvements to Proffit would serve the northern development area as part of the Places29 Master Plan, and would help to make the area more walkable.

Rooker said the Southern Parkway has been a dormant project because funding has never been available. He predicted that the Bent Creek Parkway would come online with five years, and that the County’s development area south of the City would see a new connector road once Biscuit Run is developed. Rooker also said that it was his understanding that the City placed a higher priority on the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector.

“There’s a huge amount of public that wants [the Fontaine-Sunset] connector built, and it’s in the City,” Rooker said. “Citizens from the City want to see that connection built to alleviate the traffic that is going through that part of the City to get to the University.” Conversely, he said that he can’t remember a citizen coming forward to advocate for the Southern Parkway. Rooker also said there are potentially future rezonings along the Fontaine-Sunset alignment, which could mean that developers might proffer some of the cost of building the road, which has a current cost estimate of $16 million.

Melissa Barlow, Transportation Director for the TJPDC, warned against changing the priorities in UNJAM so close to the federally-mandated May deadline for adoption. Unwanna Dabney with the FHWA said the MPO can choose to amend the CLRP at any point, but should go ahead and adopt the plan as currently written.  Taliaferro said he did not want to hold the process up.

MPO ADDRESSES PRIORITIZING OF GRADE-SEPARATED INTERCHANGES

Another project that continues to be debated is the grade-separated interchange long planned for the intersection of Hydraulic Road and US 29. Last year, the MPO Policy Board moved the $25 million project to the vision list for several reasons. In part, they needed to cut some projects to balance the CLRP. The two City Councilors on the MPO also requested the planned grade-separated interchange at Rio Road go first. 

However, the City Planning Commission recently recommended that Council move the Hydraulic Road grade-separated interchange from the vision plan back to the CLRP. Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said he supported the City Planning Commission’s request and encouraged the MPO Policy Board to follow suit. He said that the grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic was necessary to prevent failing levels of service on US29. 

“This project is too important to this region’s transportation network to preclude the possibility of receiving federal funds for it,” Butler said.

Rooker said he agreed with Butler, but that the political reality was that the City has not been interested in having the Hydraulic Road be in the CLRP. He said only one quarter of the intersection is in Albemarle County. Rooker suggested that the City Council take a public position on the Planning Commission’s vote at its next meeting. MPO Chairman and Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) suggested that the MPO staff should prepare for the possibility that City Council agrees with their Planning Commission’s recommendation.

LEONARD SANDRIDGE ROAD EXTENSION

Mainafterbig
This rendering of how the proposed Western Bypass would intersect with US29 was produced by the Southern Environmental Law Center. Dennis Rooker questioned whether the community should invest money in studying potential ways to extend Leonard Sandridge Road, formerly known as the North Grounds Connector

Dennis Rooker suggested that one $672,000 study could be eliminated. The draft UNJAM 2035 currently includes a feasibility study to extend Leonard Sandridge Road to Hydraulic, Georgetown or Barracks Road.  Rooker said the project would be unnecessary and would create a parallel road to US29 where one is not needed.  

 “We have a parallel road on the west side of 29 network that goes from Georgetown Road to Hydraulic Road to Berkmar Road,” Rooker said. “This is being done, I think, as a way of trying to salvage some value out of the right of way for the [western] bypass knowing that the state is unlikely to ever have $300 million that they’re going to want to put into the project,” Rooker said. He said the extension would require a very expensive interchange and would have to go over Stillhouse Mountain. Rooker suggested that the community should plan on selling the right-of-way for the bypass and putting the money into other appropriate projects.

The MPO discussed Rooker’s idea for some time, and evaluated different ways of how Leonard Sandridge Road is used by commuters looking to get to the University. Rooker prevailed, and the study was taken out of the draft CLRP.

Other news from the meeting:

  • Melissa Barlow said that the MPO is no longer expecting a 10% cut in funds from either the VDOT or the Federal Highway Administration.
  • The MPO amended the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) after an impromptu public hearing. The TIP was amended to allow for the possibility of receiving stimulus funds for maintenance projects
  • The Charlottesville Transit Service is reporting a 15% increase in ridership over last year in part because of night service on Routes 5 and 7. CTS will also have a free fare day on May 1, 2009
  • The University of Virginia is still searching for a partner to work with on a car-sharing program. Negotiations with Zipcar fell through last year
  • Construction will begin in August on a realignment of the intersection of West Main Street and Jefferson Park Avenue
  • Ann Whitham is leaving the TJPDC to take a position with the MPO in Missoula, Montana

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - MPO Chairman David Slutzky explains agenda changes for the meeting
  • 02:30 - Public hearing on Public Participation Plan (PPP) Review*
  • 04:00 – Public hearing on Draft FY10 United Planning and Work Program (UPWP)*
  • 07:40 – Public hearing on Draft United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UnJAM) 2035*
  • 08:00 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro launches discussion about restoring Southern Parkway to UNJAM 2035’s CLRP
  • 19:30 – Barlow warns against making too many last minute changes to UNJAM given it needs to be adopted by the MPO by May
  • 24:00 – Ann Whitham reviews changes requested made by the Charlottesville and Albemarle Planning Commissions
  • 25:30 – Unwanna Dabney of the FHWA lists her comments with the plan
  • 28:30 – Rooker questions whether UNJAM should encourage link rural communities via transit given the limitations on funding for transit
  • 35:30 – Rooker raises a concern over a potential study to extend Leonard Sandridge Road to Hydraulic Road
  • 44:15 – Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center makes comments about UNJAM 2035, prompting discussion about Hydraulic Road versus Rio Road for grade-separated interchange
  • 51:45 – Albemarle County Chief Planner David Benish reminds MPO that there’s a feasible design for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road
  • 54:45 – Public hearing comment from Jerry Diely officially endorsing grade-separated interchanges at both Rio and Hydraulic Roads
  • 56:00 – Rooker makes a correction to the entry for a pedestrian-bike path to be built along Earlysville Road
  • 57:00 – Slutzky introduces idea for having a public hearing for the Transportation Improvement Program for a new project
  • 1:05:50 – VDOT’s Jim Utterback discusses what projects will receive funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  followed by a discussion by the MPO Policy Board
  • 1:30:00 – CTS update from Nancy Arens
  • 1:33:00 – UTS and UVA update from Julia Monteith
  • 1:45:00 – JAUNT update from Donna Shaunessy
  • 1:51:00 – Reappointment of CHART members Bobby Burke and Mark Evans
  • 1:52:00 – Barlow introduces Steve Williams, new Executive Director of TJPDC

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