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July 25, 2009

MPO gets update on signal timing, VDOT cameras, record bus ridership, and AMTRAK

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By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, July 25, 2009

On July 22, 2009, the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Charlottesville-Albemarle met and received an update on local Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).  These systems include synchronized traffic signals, traffic cameras, and message boards. 

The MPO also received updates on bus ridership, the launch date of the new daily AMTRAK passenger train service from Charlottesville to Washington, DC, and next steps for the formation of a Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority.

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Dean Gustafson, VDOT's Northwest Regional Operations Director, gave the MPO an update on recent ITS initiatives.

  • 20090722-VDOT-cameras VDOT has sixteen cameras monitoring traffic in the area that cost $900,000. Eight on I-64, seven on Route 29, one on Route 250. Many of the cameras can be viewed by the public on the Internet.  VDOT has been surprised by the variety of organizations making use of the cameras, including the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Traffic signal timing optimization on Route 29 has saved average of 1 minute on travel from Hydraulic Rd to Airport Rd. Travel time is down on that stretch from 10.2 minutes to 9.2 minutes. The average stops per vehicle in that area is down from 3.1 to 2.4.
  • VDOT expects to complete coordination with the City of Charlottesville's traffic signal timing system on Route 29 (signals south of and not including Hydraulic Road) later this summer.
  • The airport runway lights used for foggy conditions on Interstate 64 on Afton Mountain are the only ones used on roads in U.S. They are being replaced with LED versions this fall.


Bill Watterson, Director of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS), told the MPO that CTS surpassed two million passenger boardings for FY2009 which ended June 30th.  The 2,012,462 is the greatest number of passenger boardings CTS has ever had in one year.  Ridership by students and staff at the University of Virginia and the UVA Medical center were a significant contributor to the increased usage of public bus service in this first year of the UVA Photo ID Program.  UVA students and staff can ride for free on CTS. 

Rebecca White, UVA's Director of Parking and Transportation said increased ridership by UVA on CTS continued to be strong this summer even after the departure of the students from the community.  White told Charlottesville Tomorrow that UVA had 20,000 "non-free Trolley" boardings on CTS in June 2009 alone.  Watterson said UVA ridership on CTS buses in FY2009 was up 41% over 2008.  Total UVA passenger boardings were almost 300,000 last year, an average of 25,000 per month.


As reported by Charlottesville Tomorrow in April 2009, AMTRAK's new passenger train from Lynchburg to Washington, DC will launch this fall, but not on the daily schedule desired by business and political leaders in Charlottesville.  The train is now scheduled to leave Lynchburg at 7:43 AM, come through Charlottesville around 8:45 AM, and arrive in Union Station by 11:20 AM, giving only about a five hour window of time before the returning south-bound train leaves the station.

The MPO discussed a resolution adopted at their May meeting expressing the MPO's belief that the 11:20 AM arrival time in Washington "will not be useful for the business traveler."  The resolution calls on the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to negotiate an improved schedule with freight operators in the corridor.

The resolution states in part: "[W]ith the approved schedule, the Lynchburg-DC train will add to the rail options available for recreational travelers and others making extended stays, but will perpetuate the existing situation wherein passenger rail is of limited utility to the business, professional, academic, government and defense-related sectors of the Charlottesville and Central Virginia region."

Stephen Williams, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (the TJPDC is staff to the MPO), announced that the grand opening of the new AMTRAK route would be on September 29, 2009


The MPO also agreed to gather more information on a consulting project related to the formation of a new Regional Transit Authority.  The firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), who developed the original plans for the transit authority, will be asked to submit a more detailed proposal and budget for work to help facilitate the implementation plans.  The MPO will seek grant funds for the consulting project from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to help with the planning effort. The final details of the consulting project will be brought back to the MPO at a meeting later this year for final approval.   


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