Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The MPO Policy Board dealt with an unusual number of items at their meeting on September 22, 2009, including an initial discussion of the U.S. 29 Corridor Study. Earlier this year, the group agreed with the recommendation by the new director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) to hold their meetings on a bi-monthly basis. Other topics included the forthcoming Virginia Surface Transportation Plan, plans for a new commuter bike trail to link Hollymead and downtown and whether legislators should join the MPO.
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Locally-desired projects absent from draft Virginia Surface Transportation Plan
This will be a master plan for the state’s primary highways, featuring projects that VDOT officials believe are necessary to meet Virginia’s road capacity in 2035. A version of the plan has been sent to MPOs across the state to get input, including the following eight projects in the MPO’s jurisdiction:
- Widen I-64 to 6 lanes from Keswick to US 29
- Widen Route 250 from I-64 to Free Bridge to 6 lanes
- Widen US 29 from I-64 to Barracks Road to 6 lanes
- Widen US 29 from South Fork Rivanna River to Greene County line to 6 lanes
- Construct dual left turn lanes at I-64 Eastbound Exit at Shadwell
- Improving sections of Route 20 as well as its intersection with Route 250
- Build grade separated interchange at Route 250 and McIntire Road
- Build grade separated interchange at US 29 and Rio Road
TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams noted that several projects considered by the MPO are not on Virginia’s list. Most notably, the plan includes no mention of the extension of Berkmar Drive.
“Although Berkmar Drive is not itself a part of the primary highway system, this improvement will help US 29, an important link in the primary system, to continue to provide acceptable levels of service in the future,” Williams wrote in a letter back to VDOT. Jim Utterback, VDOT’s Culpeper District Administrator, said any comments about Berkmar were likely be ignored given that it is not a primary road.
Williams also noted that Virginia’s proposed plan includes no references to transit or pedestrian improvements.
Another project absent from the list is the creation of a second ramp near the Best Buy from U.S. 29 to the 29/250 Bypass. That project is called for in the Places29 Master Plan. The City of Charlottesville has applied for VDOT revenue sharing funds to help pay for it.
Albemarle County Supervisor and MPO Chair David Slutzky said he was concerned that VDOT wanted to convert Route 20 into a “throughway”, something he said was inconsistent with the County’s comprehensive plan. He wanted language in the response letter to make sure that any improvements to Route 20 would be done on a spot-basis as opposed to corridor-wide.
The MPO agreed to not endorse Williams’ letter, but agreed to discuss the contents of the letter via e-mail. VDOT wants feedback delivered by October 9. The MPO Technical Committee has revised a draft letter to VDOT which summarizes their concerns.
Planning under way for commuter trail to connect Hollymead to Downtown
The MPO is assisting the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County with plans for a bicycle and pedestrian trail to connect the Hollymead area with Charlottesville. A steering committee has been formed to shepherd the project from design to completion. There are three potential routes from Hollymead to the city, as well as three potential routes from there to the Downtown Mall.
TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams said the route will be designed in such a way to encourage commuting via bicycle. Preliminary design of three potential corridors is expected to be complete within six months. Slutzky encouraged them to make sure that work was complete before the City and the County begin the next budget cycle.
Virginia’s top transportation official wants state legislators to join MPO board
Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, Pierce Homer, wants the MPO Policy Board to consider adding legislators to its membership in order to better inform state politicians about the needs of local communities. The idea has already happened in the D.C. area, where both Delegate Margaret Vanderhye and state Senator Patricia Ticer serve on that region’s MPO.
In response, Williams drafted a letter to local legislators to assess their interest in joining the body.
City Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not know how having legislators on a local body would provide any value. In response, Williams said he talked to the staff at the Hampton Roads MPO, who said they benefited from having people at the table who could actually make decisions in Richmond. Huja said he could not support that.
“It would be at least three more people on the policy board who are not local,” Huja said.
Utterback said the intent of adding legislators would be to make them more aware of the constraints placed on localities by declining state transportation revenues.
“Maybe that’s the problem. They don’t realize that the transportation nightmare we’re having is their fault,” Slutzky quipped. He said Delegate Rob Bell might have changed his mind on certain issues if he routinely attended meetings.
The MPO Policy Board agreed to send a letter to area legislators asking if any would be interested in becoming more involved. Huja called the letter a “waste of time.”
“I don’t think in my mind it will change anything,” Huja said.
RTA to be beneficiary of leftover budget money
Williams said that the MPO had around $15,000 in unspent transit planning funds. The MPO Policy Board voted to put that money towards planning for the Regional Transit Authority, even though they are not sure of the specifics of how it will be used.
Williams reminded the MPO that the previous consultant, Frank Spielberg, had said his time to continue assisting with the implementation of the RTA would be at least $40,000. A decision on how to proceed will be made at the MPO’s next meeting in November.
- VDOT has completed a new model that can help predict traffic movements in the Charlottesville area. The MPO will now be responsible for maintaining and updating the system, which will be used to guide future transportation decisions.
- The MPO’s two subcommittees will follow the MPO Policy Board’s lead and will meet bimonthly. Additionally, the MPO Technical Committee and the Community Mobility Committee will hold joint meetings with an eye towards possibly merging
- UVA has signed a contract with a “nationally recognized” car-sharing service, but representative Julia Monteith was not willing to share which one. The service will begin with six cars and will be open to the general public. Last year, UVA entered into an agreement with Zipcar, but the deal fell through. Monteith said the vehicles will be stored throughout the University’s Grounds.
- The MPO has rescheduled its next meeting to Monday, November 23. Previously the meeting was scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving
- Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) will continue to serve as chair of the MPO Policy Board for the remainder of the calendar year. The MPO will amend its bylaws to move officer elections to January.