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November 30, 2009

Political problems on Pantops


250_logox750 
DailyProgress
This article is the second in a four-part series on the future of Route 250 published jointly by The Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Part two is published here by permission of The Daily Progress.
Part: One, Two, Three, Four
250_logo_sm
By Rachana Dixit
The Daily Progress
Monday, November 30, 2009

Albemarle County resident Hank Bourguignon has a blunt assessment of the traffic situation outside of the home he has lived in for more than 10 years: nothing will be done, and the problem will persist.

“I will be in my grave before there are solutions to these problems,” said Bourguignon, who lives in the Fontana subdivision on Pantops Mountain and sits on the board of directors of its homeowners association.

Determining how traffic on U.S. 250 on and around Pantops in Albemarle, and subsequently on the U.S. 250 Bypass in Charlottesville, can be relieved is in a deadlock not only from a lack of finances.

City and county leaders for years have been unable to compromise or take unified steps to alleviate the congestion that, all of those involved agree, is only going to get worse, especially as large developments such as the new Martha Jefferson Hospital set up shop.

“[The] Pantops area is booming, and yet, even before a lot of the recent growth, there already were bottlenecks there,” Mayor Dave Norris said. Referring to county officials, he added, “They never should have allowed the rate of growth we’re seeing in that part of the county.”

In 2000, 30,000 vehicles traveled daily on the road between the city’s eastern edge and Route 20, a 0.2-mile section. That number increased to 52,000 last year, according to Virginia Department of Transportation traffic counts.

County officials say that to help traffic on U.S. 250 on Pantops, two major things should be looked into - building another crossing over the river into the city and widening the bypass.

“The city needs to get over it,” said David L. Slutzky, chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. “That route needs to be widened.”

The Pantops master plan says housing units nearly tripled since 1996 and roughly 300 acres were developed or redeveloped for commercial use. Like the other documents done for county growth areas, it includes an extensive list of transportation recommendations intended to allay congestion on U.S. 250.

It also acknowledges that regional coordination and funding will be necessary to address traffic on Pantops and on U.S. 250 to the Fluvanna County line.

“That’s Richmond’s job, to fund the necessary infrastructure,” Slutzky said of the state government’s role to provide financing for transportation projects.

Interchange expected to help flow on U.S. 250 Bypass

A $32.5 million interchange project in Charlottesville is likely to be the only major road improvement that will be seen on U.S. 250 or the U.S. 250 Bypass anytime soon.

The structure, to be located at the U.S. 250 Bypass and McIntire Road, will function as the endpoint of the controversial Meadowcreek Parkway. The 2-mile road begins at East Rio Road in Albemarle and will connect to the interchange in Charlottesville by going through McIntire Park.

While City Council members recently voiced concerns about pedestrians and bicyclists having sufficient amenities as a part of the interchange project, they are expected to take a vote on the final design before the end of the year.

A timeline projects that the Commonwealth Transportation Board will approve the interchange this winter, and construction would begin in the spring of 2011.

City officials say the mostly federally funded road improvement will help to allay bypass traffic, which has been steadily creeping up.

“Traffic is growing at a pretty good rate on that road, and it’s going to deteriorate as long as it keeps doing that,” said Jim Tolbert, director of Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services.

Charlottesville traffic projections for 2030 - which assume that the city’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway will be built - estimate that 25,075 vehicles will travel per day on the bypass between U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road, that 48,750 will move between McIntire Road and Park Street and that 50,350 vehicles will drive daily between Locust Avenue and High Street. Those figures are an increase from the 23,000, 36,000 and 38,000 vehicles, respectively, seen on those segments on average last year.

Tolbert said that not having a typical intersection at the U.S. 250 Bypass and McIntire Road will help congestion there somewhat by not allowing it to get worse. But, he said, “it won’t do anything for the flow at Free Bridge.”

The city expects that 56,400 vehicles will move daily across Free Bridge roughly 20 years from now. And officials agree that they do not know how that bottleneck, and others along U.S. 250, will ultimately be relieved.

“I don’t know that there is an easy answer to any of this,” Mayor Dave Norris said.

According to a list of projects from UnJAM 2035, the area’s long-range transportation plan, the U.S. 250 corridor improvements that are called for in the master plan alone would cost $42.1 million. Adopted in March 2008, the plan says improvements should provide for a Hansen Mountain Road connector; additional sidewalks and bike paths; more transit; widening U.S. 250 on Pantops (but not to more than six lanes); and another Rivanna River crossing into Charlottesville, among a slew of other ideas.

A 2004 study on the eastern part of U.S. 250 also suggested that park-and-ride lots be built at Interstate 64 and at Route 616.

According to building activity reports, Albemarle County issued building permits for 835 new residential units in the Pantops area between 1999 and this year’s third quarter, which ended in September. The largest number came in 2001, when the county issued permits for 11 single-family homes and 265 multi-family units.

Additionally, according to county development activity reports that were kept from 1999 to 2003, which gauged serious development interests, there was nearly 770,000 square feet in major non-residential site plans for Pantops signed off on by county leaders.

“It’s a bottleneck now, obviously,” Bourguignon said of Free Bridge. “If there were a crossing of the river somewhere behind where State Farm is, going over to downtown Charlottesville, you’d divert so much traffic. But nothing will be done.”

Grant Cosner remembers when there was no U.S. 250 Bypass and when the same stretch that runs through Pantops was only two lanes.

“High Street was also two lanes, of course,” Cosner said on a recent afternoon from his auto body shop.

The Cosner Bros. Body Shop has been at its Charlottesville High Street location, where Free Bridge is in plain view, for 53 years. In that time the business has witnessed a substantial evolution of the corridor, as growth on Pantops has exploded and thousands use U.S. 250 to go to work, to shop and to get home.

“I think it’s all been good. I also think the bypass was a really good thing,” said Cosner, who takes U.S. 250 in his 50-minute roundtrip commute to and from the Shadwell area.

VDOT’s average annual daily traffic counts show that while traffic volumes are high on the U.S. 250 Bypass in Charlottesville between Emmet Street and the city’s eastern line, the vehicular increases vary depending on the segment of road.

In 2000, the 0.42-mile segment of the bypass from Hydraulic Road to Dairy Road saw 39,000 vehicles per day, and the figure increased to 43,000 last year. Generally, excluding the Free Bridge area, counts jumped between 1,000 and 4,000 vehicles from 2000 to 2008.

Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s director of Neighborhood Development Services, said congestion on U.S. 250 is certainly an issue because of the bottlenecks residents sit through at particular times of the day.

“Is it a massive issue? No, but 250 is an area where traffic is increasing. We know that, so it’s got to have some attention,” he said.

Charlottesville officials, however, say they have no interest in taking measures such as widening the bypass. Tolbert said he would love to see the city and county come to a mutually acceptable solution, “But I don’t think there’s any interest in a solution that just puts the burden on city streets.”

“We are not going to be the conduit of traffic for the whole region,” said City Council member Satyendra Huja, who sits on the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The refusals are mutual. City officials say they want to see Albemarle pursue an eastern connector, a road whose feasibility was jointly studied by the localities. After studying the road for nearly two years, the recommended alignment to relieve the most congestion was to connect Route 20 with Rio Road by going through Pen Park.

But last year, the county Board of Supervisors decided to hold off on studying the road more until it had more data on traffic patterns.

The City Council eventually followed suit, even though city staff recommended the county study two of the proposed routes in more detail and that the route move forward if located outside city limits.

After getting new data, “maybe we can take another look at it,” said Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who said he is not opposed to building an eastern connector.

Some city and county leaders have relentlessly advocated for a more robust transit system that is not downtown Charlottesville-centric, yet a lack of state funding and the inability to raise large amounts of local revenues have, for now, essentially tabled that idea, as well.

Steve Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said achieving agreements between the two localities must begin with a neutral party doing technical work at the staff level that all parties can trust. Once that is in place, the localities must define the issues they face and the benefits they could accrue from various solutions.

Williams said, in his view, the traffic troubles that plague Free Bridge and parts of Pantops are not a capacity problem, but one that could be helped through intersection improvements. On expanding transit, Williams said, “There’s just not enough capacity for transit to be the entire solution.”

Slutzky said that the county has largely addressed what it can about the future of U.S. 250 through its multiple master plans, which all have their own transportation recommendations. But he has suggested doing a master plan for the entire area as a way to help officials reach the consensus needed to solve the area’s traffic problems.

“It would be our product, our common solutions, about what would work best,” he said. But concerns about how much such a plan would cost, and limited local resources to collaborate regionally, made it so the idea never got traction.

“Nobody ever talks about it,” Slutzky said.

Norris said to solve the problem, he thinks it will have to come from those residents who have to constantly deal with the pressures of growth and its effect on U.S. 250. Once they voice their concerns and demand that action be taken, maybe then elected officials would come around.

Pantops resident Bourguignon only sees more talk.

“Let us be frank. How long has it taken to get the Meadowcreek Parkway off the ground?” he asked. “They’ve been talking and talking and talking and planning and planning and planning and fighting and fighting and fighting for what, 35 or 40 years?”

MPO hears details on Jarmans Gap Road cuts, UVA vehicle sharing programs

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 30, 2009

At their meeting on November 24, 2009, the MPO Policy Board heard details about a proposed bike-sharing program at the University of Virginia, a $7 million cut in funds from the Jarmans Gap Road improvement project, and discussed the future of the Regional Transit Authority

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091124-MPO

20060322-JarmansGapRd2
The improvements would add sidewalks and bike lanes to Jarmans Gap Road
The Commonwealth Transportation Board will vote this week on ways to deal with a $851.5 shortfall in VDOT’s Six-Year Plan. Among the cuts is nearly $7 million for Jarmans Gap Road, a key infrastructure project supporting the Crozet Master Plan, adopted in 2004. The project currently has an advertisement date of January 2011, but that is likely to change if the cuts are approved.

In all, there are $18 million in cuts in VDOT’s Culpeper District. Other projects include a $3.6 million reduction in funds for the Belmont Bridge replacement in the City of Charlottesville.

The CTB will vote on the cuts on December 1st in Richmond.

Rooker seeks MPO support for maintaining truck lengths

Rooker asked for the MPO’s support for legislation before Congress that would restrict the size of tractor trailers to what is allowed on the road now. The legislation, known as the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, would preserve the current 80,000 pound weight limit for each truck. However, there is no current federal limit on the length of trucks. Eleven states allow for trucks longer than 53 feet, the current industry standard.

“There is pressure by trucking groups and lobbyists of trucking groups to substantially increase the size of trucks on highways,” Rooker said. One request is to allow up to three trailers for each cab, which Rooker said would increase wear and tear on highways and would make the interstates more dangerous.

“I can’t imagine a triple tractor trailer on I-81,” Rooker said.

The endorsement has now been sent on to Congressman Tom Perriello’s office.

University begins Zipcar service, considering bike sharing

Earlier this month, the University of Virginia began offering a car-sharing program through the company Zipcar. There is a fleet of six cars stored in three locations on central grounds – outside Gilmer Hall, outside the UVA chapel and by Scott Stadium on Alderman Road.

“We’re trying to make them accessible for dorm users, academic use on McCormick Road and then general users,” said UVA Senior Land Use Officer Julia Monteith. If the program is successful, she said it could expand into the City of Charlottesville. 

UVA is also considering a bike sharing program. Senior Land Use Officer Julia Monteith said the project originated from a class project in the Commerce School that has evolved into an actual business plan. The MPO endorsed a letter of support for the project as its organizers seek planning grants.

The MPO’s next meeting will be in January 2010. At least two new members will be joining the board to fill the seats being vacated by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) and City Councilor Julian Taliaferro.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Vice Chair  Satyendra Huja opens the meeting
  • 01:15 - Public comment from Don Holmes on the Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 04:00 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman regarding funding cuts
  • 07:00 - Public comment from Jerry Diely regarding resolution against larger trucks
  • 07:30 - Julia Monteith asks if any changes can be made to Meadowcreek Parkway project
  • 08:15 - MPO Director Stephen Williams says project is too far along to accept changes
  • 09:40 - City Councilor Satyendra Huja says city is not interested in building more highways through parks
  • 11:45 - MPO considers adopting minutes from September meeting
  • 14:00 - Supervisor Rooker asks if new traffic model software can be used to project traffic on proposed Berkmar bridge
  • 17:00 - Williams reports that new MPO transportation planner will be on board once his visas clear
  • 20:30 - Discussion begins on TIP amendments required for projects to be paid for with stimulus money
  • 22:45 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman and vote on TIP amendment
  • 28:30 - MPO passes bylaw amendments to move officer elections to the January meeting
  • 29:30 - Julia Monteith of UVA asks for support for planning grant for UVA Bike Sharing program
  • 31:00 - Alexandria Searls with the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center appears to ask for support for TEA grant
  • 33:30 - Williams begins conversation about next steps for the RTA plan
  • 44:30 - Rooker explains why he wants MPO's support for legislation to limit size of trucks allowed on federal highways
  • 47:00 - Donna Shaunnessy reports on JAUNT news
  • 49:00 - Monteith reports on zipcar program launching at UVA
  • 55:00 - Williams relates information about cuts in the six-year program
  • 56:45 - Public comment from Jerry Diely who wants the MPO to demand taxing authority for RTA
  • 58:00 - Rooker says this is not the year to return to the General Assembly for taxing authority
  • 58:45 - Mac Lafferty says this might be a good time to do it because of the recession

November 29, 2009

Growth strains highways, residents


250_logox750 
DailyProgress
This article is the first in a four-part series on the future of Route 250 published jointly by The Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Part one is published here by permission of The Daily Progress.
Part: One, Two, Three, Four
250_logo_sm
By Rachana Dixit
The Daily Progress
Sunday, November 29, 2009

Neil and Susan Means’ property is the embodiment of the rural east in Albemarle County.

They live where there are few intersections and no parallel roads. Thick woods surround their home, and few noises pervade the landscape.

But the Meanses have become dismayed with the mounting traffic and bottlenecks around their neighborhood because of surrounding growth. The couple, having lived in the area since the 1970s and in their Village of Rivanna home since 1980, says the county’s strategy of concentrating growth in certain areas makes sense.

“But out here, there is one road going past it,” Neil Means said.

The road Means refers to is U.S. 250.

From Keswick to Crozet, U.S. 250 is one of Central Virginia’s most important routes for commutes and commerce. And from one end to the other, residents share concerns about whether the road’s condition will hold up with more growth and less money, or if a decline in transportation infrastructure could pose a detriment to the area’s scenery and high quality of life.

“There is no infrastructure to support the growth we have now,” Susan Means said.

In eastern Albemarle, the challenge involves both local traffic and those residents who head to work or shopping from points nearby that are not within county limits.

“It’s the Main Street for the east part of Albemarle County, if you will,” said Steve Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. U.S. 250, he said, is the best connection to the area’s major employment centers - downtown Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, Pantops and U.S. 29.

“No wonder the thing is congested,” Williams said.

The difficulty in balancing growth pressures and a decline in transportation infrastructure spending is growing more acute, but there is little movement toward solutions.

“We talked about the need to kind of coordinate these issues,” said Kenneth C. Boyd, a member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, of figuring out transportation solutions with officials in localities farther east of Albemarle, such as Louisa. But because there is essentially no money to implement solutions, Boyd said that idea “fell by the wayside.”

“It’s an interregional problem that really is difficult to solve,” he said.

Climbing traffic

Virginia Department of Transportation traffic counts for last year estimated that 24,000 vehicles traveled on U.S. 250 between Interstate 64 and Route 22 daily, and the number is expected to increase to 42,185 vehicles by 2035.

Between Route 22 and the Fluvanna County line, daily traffic counts from last year were 5,600 vehicles and are projected to jump to 24,400 by 2035.

“Rush hour is the problem,” Neil Means said. “It can be really horrible.”

The byway in the eastern part of Albemarle has been studied in an attempt to divine how congestion could be reduced. One study was done in 2004, and in March of last year, the Eastern Albemarle Sub-Area Study - coordinated with VDOT, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and Albemarle County - was released and listed millions of dollars worth of recommendations.

Among them were improving the intersection of U.S. 250 and North Milton Road and constructing a roundabout or traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Glenmore Way. The latter junction edges on the Village of Rivanna - a designated growth area east of where I-64 crosses U.S. 250 east of Charlottesville.

The village has increasingly attracted attention as its master plan is finalized and the growth-versus-infrastructure argument comes to a head.

It was decided last month that the master plan would state that unless several transportation improvements are made, many specifically to U.S. 250, the Albemarle Planning Commission would not recommend the approval of rezonings in the Rivanna growth area.

The commission solidified its opinion Nov. 17, recommending to supervisors that the Village of Rivanna master plan be approved, but authorization for developments that require rezonings would be contingent upon the completion of infrastructure upgrades.

$16 million needed

Albemarle has issued building permits in the village for hundreds of new residential units over the last 10 years, according to building activity reports. Between 1999 and the third quarter of this year, which ended in September, building permits were granted for 324 new units. The most were issued in 2003 - 53 total, 52 of which were for single-family homes.

The draft master plan points out that based on March estimates, there were 761 dwellings in the Village of Rivanna, with an estimated population of 1,617 to 1,918 residents.

The improvements that would be required to handle more vehicles in the corridor are estimated to cost more than $16 million. They include widening U.S. 250 to four lanes from I-64 to Glenmore Way; improving the intersections of U.S. 250 and North Milton Road and U.S. 250 and Black Cat Road; and improving the I-64 interchange at Shadwell.

“Beyond that, there’s really not that much more to say in terms of particular improvements to 250 that may be out there in the long term,” Wayne Cilimberg, Albemarle County’s director of planning, said of the village’s master plan.

“There’s never been any action taken on the east part of 250 by the county,” he said.

VDOT officials also say that two more traffic signals, primarily being funded by private developers, are planned along U.S. 250 near the village because of new projects - at Glenmore Way and at Route 22 in Shadwell.

Growing pains


The Meanses said they do not think the Village of Rivanna is suited to be a growth area because of where it is located in Albemarle, and because a sharp decline in transportation spending translates into U.S. 250 not being able to get the necessary improvements to handle an influx of growth.

But others say that growth will continue to happen, and if it is not concentrated in the areas that are designed for higher densities and more residents, then it would instead invade more rural areas.

“I’m having a really hard time with the thought of, OK, we’re just going to shut down our growth areas,” Planning Commission member Marcia Joseph said in an interview. Joseph said moving residents to rural areas, where it would not be realistic for them to use other transportation modes apart from their own vehicles, would ultimately not solve any traffic problems.

“What if we decide that our growth areas are no longer our growth areas?” she added. “Is that what we’re deciding? I don’t think so.”

Williams said the traffic increases that are expected on U.S. 250 are going to happen regardless of whether the village’s rezonings are approved - because of new development and employment opportunities further east, such as in Fluvanna County and Zion Crossroads in Louisa. Current sewer capacity would allow for another 300 to 400 units on top of 674 approved new units since 2001.

“We’ll deal with the specifics and the details as it moves forward,” Boyd said.

The Meanses, echoing the feelings of most county planning commissioners, say they are glad officials have acknowledged the growth and infrastructure conundrum. Even widening the roads and doing the other improvements, Neil Means said, is not going to solve U.S. 250’s traffic issues.

“Provide the roads if you’re going to have a growth area,” he said.

November 25, 2009

RWSA adopts schedule for dam replacement to satisfy state regulators

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) will receive permission from state regulators to allow for the two dams at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir to continue operating through the end of May 2010. On Tuesday, the RWSA Board of Directors adopted a schedule for replacement of the dams, even though a final decision on their future will not be made until next spring at the earliest.

Holsinger-slides1 
The two dams have been operating under conditional permits from the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) dam safety division due to their age and concerns about their structural viability in the event of a major flood. The upper dam was built around 1885 and the lower dam was built around 1908.

Under the community water supply plan adopted by Albemarle and Charlottesville in June 2006, the dams are to be replaced by one taller dam downstream that would raise the water pool by 45 feet. The new dam is only one component of the 50-year water supply plan.

In September 2008, the new Ragged Mountain Dam’s preliminary cost estimates increased from an initial $37 million to a range between $56.5 million and $99 million (in 2010 dollars).   While the new estimates were not accepted by the RWSA, water officials did seek the opinion of an independent panel of dam experts and afterwards decided to hire a new engineering firm to design the dam.

In response to the escalating cost projections, Mayor Dave Norris and other city councilors have raised the possibility of repairing the lower dam to address DCR’s safety concerns, or alternatively to build on top of the 1908 dam by adding just 13 feet.

In order to receive the new conditional permit, the RWSA was required to submit a new timeline for replacement or repair of the dams. RWSA officials opted to use a schedule which indicates preliminary design of the new dam will be ready by August 2010, with construction to be completed by October 2013.

City Councilor Holly Edwards said she understands the reason for the new schedule, but has reservations about how the schedule might be interpreted by opponents of the water supply plan.

“There is concern the schedule implies consent for the new dam when there’s still a lot of information out there that we have not yet obtained,” Edwards said.

At first, Edwards asked for consideration of the new schedule to be deferred until January so Council could have time to discuss the matter. RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick pointed out that the current operating certificate for the dam expires at the end of November.

Despite her concerns, Edwards voted to approve the new schedule after said the Board’s approval was not in any way to be seen as an endorsement of the community water supply plan.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the RWSA Board deferred consideration of a proposal to have the same firm that is designing the new dam conduct a study on repairing or expanding the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam.

Under the terms of the proposal, Schnabel Engineering would be paid a fee of up to $188,000 to conduct what project manager Chris Webster called a ‘condition assessment’ of the structure.

Betty Mooney with the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said she thought Schnabel should not be given a contract to study the existing dam because of their existing relationship with RWSA.

“I do see this as a conflict of interest,” Mooney said. “They’re designing the new dam and I don’t feel the public can trust information coming from them.”  Mooney said she was also opposed to raising the dam by any amount and said the community will not need the amount of water that the RWSA has claimed will be necessary by 2055.

Webster said his firm had an obligation to remain unbiased.

“As a professional engineering firm, it’s our duty to provide what we think is the best recommendation for the client,” Webster said. He added he is not prepared to provide even a preliminary cost estimate for adding on to the dam because his engineers do not yet have enough data.

“Due to all of the background information that we currently have, the dam is in somewhat poor condition and we feel a fairly rigorous study would be necessary to determine whether or not it could be used beyond its current life,” Webster said.

Dan Johnson, vice president of GEI Consultants in Boulder, was a member of the expert panel assembled by RWSA earlier this year to review engineering data and a 1913 safety report for the lower dam.  He confirmed in an August interview that the independent panel did express what Frederick has described as “significant concerns” about any construction taking place on the 1908 dam.

“Work could be done, but you would have to lower the reservoir [water level],” said Johnson. “There was discussion about raising the existing dam… but there is no great cost benefit and you end up with an old dam integrated with a new dam. With an entirely new dam downstream, you can keep operating the reservoir, and that is very valuable.”

A vote on whether to accept Schnabel’s proposal was deferred until the RWSA Board’s meeting in January. City Manager Gary O’Connell said Council will take up the proposal and other water supply issues at its first meeting in January.
 

Transit authority future depends on new appointments

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The fate of a proposed Regional Transit Authority (RTA) could depend on who is selected in January to represent the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on two regional transportation bodies. Since a joint meeting in February 2008, local officials have been pursuing the creation of a new authority to operate and expand local bus service.

Supervisor David Slutzky, a chief proponent of the RTA, was defeated in his bid for re-election to Albemarle’s Rio District seat earlier this month. Slutzky sits on both the MPO policy board and a committee created to guide the transition from a Charlottesville-owned bus system to one operated by an independent RTA. The RTA working group last met in May of this year.

20090630-bus-system
Routes 5 and 7 serve Albemarle County and run twice an hour from 6:00 AM to midnight, Monday through Saturday. Route 7 is one of only two routes that run at all on Sunday.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing Charlottesville and Albemarle to create a transit authority, but a companion bill that may have provided a funding source for enhanced service did not make it out of committee. That legislation would have authorized a referendum in which city and country residents would have voted on a sales tax increase to pay the RTA’s operating and capital costs. Among the questions to be answered is how much it will cost to implement the new authority and how assets of the Charlottesville Transit Service would be transferred to the RTA. Earlier this year, the MPO had considered spending $40,000 to re-hire VHB, the firm who originally developed the RTA plan, to provide an estimate as well as to answer other logistical and governance questions.

The MPO Board agreed at their meeting on Monday that city, county and MPO staff should instead conduct that work.

“At this point I think we ought to get these questions answered, and find out where we are,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). The MPO also agreed to reconvene the RTA working group in the new year.

However, City Councilor Satyendra Huja said further decisions should wait until the next City Council and Board of Supervisors appoint replacements for Councilor Julian Taliaferro and Slutzky on the MPO. Huja, who serves on the RTA working group with Councilor Holly Edwards, said he would like to remain on the MPO but would give up the seat if another Councilor was more interested.

A decision on who will replace Taliaferro will not be made until the new Council meets in January. Edwards said in an interview that she is interested in joining the MPO. She added she is a supporter of the RTA concept but has reservations.

 “The RTA is like having a new toy for Christmas but without any of the batteries,” Edwards said.

Councilor-elect Kristin Szakos is also interested in serving on the MPO. In an interview before the election, Szakos said she feels the city and county should work together but was not yet convinced they needed to combine forces into an RTA.

“I think we do need to work closely together, because we have a lot of shared needs and a lot of shared resources that we can use,” Szakos said in September.

The Board of Supervisors will not appoint its new representatives to the MPO until January. Rooker is interested in serving another term, but his continued tenure is a matter for the full Board to decide.

Supervisor-elect Rodney Thomas (Rio) said before the election that he wants to study if the RTA can be funded using the revenue sharing money the county pays to the city. Supervisor-elect Duane Snow (Samuel Miller) said his support for an RTA depends on whether there are other resources for funding transit

“I would exhaust all the efforts to get the Commonwealth to pay attention to its infrastructure and their responsibilities,” Snow said.

November 24, 2009

City Council poised to grant easements for Meadow Creek sewer line


By Tarpley Ashworth & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Charlottesville City Council has held the first reading of a resolution to transfer easements to the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority allowing for the utility to replace a sewer line that runs along Meadow Creek. At their meeting on November 16, 2009, Council also endorsed the concept of a restoration of the waterway’s stream bank. That work will be done in conjunction with the sewer line expansion.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091116-MeadowCreek


20091116-mc-map Click for a larger view of this map depicting the route of the interceptor as well as the area in which stream banks will be restored (Source: City of Charlottesville)
As part of the endorsement of the stream bank project, Councilors said it would consider granting a conservation easement on all City-owned land that surrounds Meadow Creek as it flows from Hydraulic Road to Greenbrier Park. That is a requirement of the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund (VARTF), which is paying for the restoration.

In all, the project will cover about 8,500 linear feet of the creek, 1,800 linear feet of its tributaries, and will protect 73 acres of forests and wetlands. The restoration will create or strengthen riparian buffers along the creek’s edges, reduce the slope of creek banks to reduce the velocity of runoff, , replace invasive tree species with native vegetation, and install “in-stream” structures which rebuild natural stream characteristics, like curving meanders, which have been lost over the years due to erosion. 

“I can tell you [this will be] one of the largest stream restoration projects I think I will ever see in my professional lifetime,” said Kristel Riddervold, the City’s Environmental Administrator. She cited a 2000 foot restoration of Moores Creek through Azalea Park in Charlottesville as an example of a similar project the City has embarked upon in the past.

Download Download Kristel Riddervold's presentation to Council

In addition to upgrading capacity, the project will also address the deterioration of the current pipeline. There are currently numerous cases of broken pipe or joints, root intrusions, and exposed pipe along the banks of Meadow Creek which significantly increases erosion.

20091116-azalea-example Riddervold showed Council examples of how a similar streambank restoration project in Azalea Park looks nine years after work was performed (Source: City of Charlottesville)
Council must grant the easements on City land to the RWSA for the sewer replacement for the project to begin. The easements cover portions of Pen Park, Greenbrier Park, and land adjacent to the Charlottesville High School stadium, Melbourne Road, and the Route 250 bypass.

Public comment was fairly supportive of restoring Meadow Creek, but many residents questioned the merits of the Meadowcreek Interceptor project.

Linda Seaman of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association suggested that city officials keep a “watchful eye” over construction to ensure that it doesn’t harm the environment, and proposed there be a single project manager between both projects so concerned citizens would have a primary point of contact.

City resident John Pfaltz said the expanded sewer capacity would lead to increased development and traffic along Route 29. Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said the Interceptor project would primarily benefit the County.

“The city should not be paying for county growth, for county traffic, [and] for enlarging pipes for the county,” said Mooney.

Before taking a final vote on the matters, Mayor Dave Norris addressed concerns that the City was paying for a County project.

“We have made it very clear that the City will not pay a single dime for expansion of the sewer system that’s related to growth in Albemarle County. That’s been our position for quite some time,” said Norris.

Council will take up the second reading of the easement at its meeting on December 7, 2009.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 – Presentation from Kristel Riddervold, City's Environmental Administrator
  • 32:00 – Lauren Hildebrand, Director of Public Utilities, presents on easements
  • 38:00 – Public Hearing is open
  • 38:18 – Linda Seaman, of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association, says her organization wants projects to proceed with great care to the environment
  • 41:00 – Colette Hall, member of the Executive Board of the Alliance of Neighborhoods, says projects should consider impacts to other neighborhoods besides Greenbrier
  • 42:00 – Peter Kleeman, resident, says he wants the City to be clear on whether this transfer of rights to RWSA is officially a sale
  • 45:00 – John Pfaltz, resident, says that pipe expansion will have negative consequences concerning growth and traffic
  • 46:10 – Betty Mooney, resident, says that pipe expansion will disproportionately benefit County
  • 47:50 – Public hearing closed; Norris says that City will not pay for County’s portion of sewer expansion
  • 49:20 – City Attorney Craig Brown says that the City is not seeking compensation for the easement and can more appropriately be described as a donation
  • 51:40 – Council Member Holly Brown asks if there are opportunities to have local workers participating in the projects
  • 53:18 – Director of Parks and Recreation Brian Daly answers that they have discussed workforce development issues, and will present a more concrete plan about this in the future
  • 54:00 – Norris closes discussion and takes votes; ordinance to grant easements to RWSA approved and will come before Council again for 2nd reading, resolution endorsing conservation easements approved

November 23, 2009

UVA’s Sandridge details $265 million in current construction projects

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 23, 2009

Construction activity at the University of Virginia will remain at an increased level over the next two years before dropping off, according to Chief Operating Officer Leonard Sandridge. He detailed how UVA is spending $265 million in 2007 dollars from its capital budget in construction projects this year.

“We have got as much construction as we’ve ever had going on,” Sandridge said. “We are predicting we will spend more on new construction next year.”

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20091119-sandridge Leonard Sandridge
Sandridge briefed Charlottesville and Albemarle leaders at a meeting last Thursday of the Planning and Coordination Council, a joint group which discusses community infrastructure and growth. Next year, UVA will spend $308 million as a slew of projects approach completion.
Sandridge said construction activity will then slow down because a number of large capital projects will have been completed.  He forecasts only $224 million in capital spending in FY2012.

One obstacle is the dwindling amount of state funds for higher education. Sandridge pointed out that no state funds have gone to a 72-bed expansion of the University Medical Center, a new $37.4 million education building (Bavarro Hall), or four new dormitories being built on Alderman Road at a cost of $90.5 million.

Research needs are driving at least some of the construction. Both a new $68.8 million engineering building (Rice Hall) and a new $86.6 million arts and science building (so far unnamed) is part of the University’s push to add 200,000 square feet of research space. Sandridge said every effort is being made to maximize space available on Grounds. 

Another privately funded project is a $3.6 million expansion of the Davenport Field baseball stadium. Sandridge said the sport has become incredibly popular, and is bringing people to UVA who would not have ordinarily come into contact with the school.

In the coming weeks, ground will be broken on a new $12.7 million rehearsal space on Culbreth Road for the UVA Marching Band and other musical activities. This project is being paid for by a gift from philanthropist Hunter Smith.

South-lawn Aerial view of the South Lawn Project. Jefferson Park Avenue runs through the middle of the picture. (Source: UVA)
Sandridge said one difference between this period of growth and a similar period in the early 1970’s is the higher aesthetic expectations today.

“There was a willingness to accept a quality of construction and appearance that we do not have the appetite for today,” Sandridge said.

University-related construction is not restricted to Central Grounds and the Medical Center. The University of Virginia Foundation, which purchases and manages off-grounds properties on behalf of the school, is also in the midst of expansion at its research parks.

Tim Rose, foundation director, said the Fontaine Research Park is now fully built out and awaiting rezoning by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors before expansion can begin. That action is expected in the next year. A second application to expand the North Fork Research park by 30 acres will also come before the Board of Supervisors.

Earlier in the PACC meeting, Albemarle County officials briefed members on the impact the expanding Rivanna Station will have on the community. In all, five DIA functions are being relocated from Bolling Air Force Base to Albemarle County, according to Community Relations Manager Lee Catlin. In all, the DIA has identified 828 positions that will be moving here.

“These are very sophisticated high-technology jobs that are going to be coming down to the community,” Catlin said.

Pace Lochte, UVA’s director of economic development, said that a “miniature intelligence community” is developing around NGIC and the North Fork Research Park. She said NGIC and other intelligence agencies are interested in using UVA as a resource.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what the community and the DIA can do together,” Lochte said.

“This is the kind of development and economic improvement that every community in this country would just die to have it come into their community,” Sandridge added.

List of construction projects at UVA:

  • Claude Moore Education Building– operational by May 2010
  • Bavarro Hall  – complete by August 2010
  • First two buildings of the South Lawn Project operational by January 2010, rest in July 2010
  • Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center – operational by April 2011
  • Four new Alderman Road dorms to be built in two phases (2 in May 2011, 2 in June 2013)
  • Information Technology and Communication Data Center – operational by May 2011
  • Bookstore expansion – operational by summer 2011
  • Rice Hall (engineering building) on Whitehead and Stadium Road – operational in August 2011
  • College of Arts and Sciences Research Building (currently unnamed) – operational by August 2011
  • Rehearsal space on Culbreth Road – operational by 2011
  • 72-bed intensive care unit expansion at UVA Medical Center – complete by January 2012
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - PACC Meeting called to order by Chairman Ken Boyd
  • 01:15 - Lee Catlin begins presentation on DIA personnel coming to Rivanna Station
  • 15:20 - Boyd asks Leonard Sandridge if UVA is establishing a career ladder training program
  • 20:30 - Boyd asks Susan Stimart if an effort will be made to attract skilled technology workers
  • 22:00 - PACC begins update of UVA capital projects
  • 22:15 - Tim Rose of the UVA Foundation begins presentation
  • 25:05 - Pace Tochten, UVA's director of economic development, talking about UVA's interaction with DIA
  • 33:00 - Sandridge gives update on UVA capital projects
  • 1:05:00 - Acting City Manager Ric Barrick asks about the Arts Gateway at corner of Emmett Street and Ivy Road
  • 1:08:00 - PACC discusses what topics to discuss in 2010

November 22, 2009

Rezoning deferred for Abundant Life Ministries property on Prospect Avenue

By Connie Chang
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, November 22, 2009

A request by the Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries (CALM) to increase the number of dwelling units at their location at 834 Prospect Avenue location has been deferred. At their meeting on Tuesday, November 10, 2009, members of the Charlottesville Planning Commissiont said they were hesitant to move forward with a decision due to a lack of information regarding the upzoning's impact on adjacent properties.

The petition called for a rezoning from the existing R-2 Residential to McIntire-Fifth Street Residential (MR) zoning at the 834 Prospect Avenue location. The applicant’s request proposed to rezone 0.75 acres on the rear of the approximately 1.25 acre site. With the MR rezoning, CALM would be allowed an increase of 15 dwelling units to 21 dwelling units per acre by right.

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Residents surrounding the CALM site have expressed concern that the upzoning will negatively impact the adjacent low-density properties. According to the Charlottesville zoning ordinance, the purpose of the McIntire Fifth Street Residential corridor designation is “to encourage redevelopment in the form of medium-density multifamily residential uses, in a manner that will complement nearby commercial uses and be consistent with the function of McIntire Road/Fifth Street Extended as a gateway to the city's downtown area.”

The MR zoning does not require a setback for side yards or rear yards, which is a concern for both Commissioners and local residents. The current R-2 zoning requires that side yards have a minimum setback of 50 feet for non-residential corner properties and 20 feet for street properties. The maximum building height allowed with the MR zoning would also be increased from a 35 feet to a 5-story maximum height.

Commissioner John Santoski expressed his discomfort with the proposed upzoning.

"It seems we're taking a residential neighborhood and we're basically going to allow for development of something we're not even sure what it's going to be," said Santoski.

Although the applicant has not proposed a specific use for the site, potential uses could include:
  • Worship space for groups of various sizes.
  • Nursery facility/Pre-school facility
  • 4 Habitat for Humanity housing units
  • Minimum of 16 Medium density/multi-family units
  • Life training center
  • Job training center
  • Administration facilities
  • Parking
  • Open space
According to BRW Principal Architect Bruce Wardell, the applicant’s intent was to "preserve the residential frontage on Prospect Avenue" and to obtain MR zoning to correspond to the adjacent property designated MR to the north of the site. With the MR zoning, the applicant would have "more flexibility" regarding items such as the disturbance of critical slopes and the impact on the existing landscape.

Commissioner Bill Emory outlined his concerns over the effect an MR rezoning would have on issues such as parking and traffic flow.

"MR allows a much larger building envelope than R-2," said Emory. "Assuming the worst case scenario with an MR, it scares me."

According to Neighborhood Planner Brian Haluska, with the current rezoning proposal, proffers would be the only way to require the applicant to adhere to certain design standards, such as implementing buffers to mitigate the impact of a larger building footprint.

Commissioner Michael Osteen and several others expressed the need for more information regarding the use of the property and for another opportunity for the public to weigh in on the project.

"The idea that we're moving towards something like this I find is a very attractive idea, but I do feel like there probably needs to be some discussions about mitigations that can be applied to this piece of the site at a minimum that would alleviate some of the concerns," said Osteen.

The item was the first time two Commissioners had to recuse themselves because of their affiliations with the project. Dan Rosensweig is Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, which has interest in the property and Kurt Keesecker is an employee of BRW Architects.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 00:54 – Neighborhood planner Brian Haluska presents staff report
  • 05:35 - Commissioner Michael Osteen asks whether the parcel will be in the entrance corridor
  • 06:18 - Commissioner Bill Emory asks about split zoning of the site
  • 07:45 - Commissioner John Santoski asks how often upzoning occurs
  • 09:43 - Santoski asks why the applicant hasn't requested a Planned Unit Development rezoning
  • 10:55 - Councilor Satyendra Huja comments on slope of the property
  • 11:35 - Emory asks about the enclave effect
  • 13:00 - Huja asks about proffers for the site
  • 15:00 - Santoski asks how many dwelling units per acre would be allowed on site
  • 16:00 - Executive Director of CALM, Rydell Paine presents
  • 19:00 – BRW architect Bruce Wardell presents
  • 23:55 - Emory asks what is allowable on site
  • 25:53 - Public comment period begins
  • 26:20 - Joante Brown comments
  • 27:00 - Kathy Brown comments
  • 28:01 - Dorothy Jones comments
  • 28:55 - Rebecca Goodwin comments
  • 31:15 - David Murphy comments
  • 33:25 - Durenda Johnson comments
  • 36:25 - Santoski comments on upzoning
  • 37:38 - Emory comments on scope of review
  • 43:20 - Haluska comments on setbacks for different zonings
  • 46:30 - Chairman Jason Pearson asks about pedestrian access
  • 47:20 - Osteen comments on public
  • 51:50 - Emory asks about deferral
  • 57:00 - Santoski comments on setbacks
  • 1:01:35 - Wardell requests a deferral
  • 1:02:40 - Huja comments on proffers for affordable housing
  • 1:03:50 - Osteen moves acceptance of applicant's deferral

Village of Rivanna master plan will head to Board of Supervisors

By Connie Chang & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Tuesday night, the Albemarle County Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the Village of Rivanna master plan to the Board of Supervisors. The Village of Rivanna, which includes the Glenmore sub-division is one of Albemarle’s designated growth areas and is located on Route 250 East.

The County adopted the Crozet Master Plan in December 2004 and the Pantops Master Plan in March 2008. The Board will also take up the Places29 Master Plan next year. Work on a master plan for the County’s southern urban area, which includes Biscuit Run, has been postponed indefinitely due to budget cuts according to County Executive Bob Tucker.

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20091117-APC-Rivanna

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the four Commissioners in attendance, Linda Porterfield (Scottsville), Calvin Morris (Rivanna), Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller), and Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett), said they were very enthusiastic to see the Rivanna master plan reach this stage.

In previous Planning Commission work sessions, Commissioners and local residents voiced concerns that the necessary infrastructure and transportation improvements would not be in place to adequately accommodate a growth of this magnitude.

According to the draft master plan, the number of additional units which may be approved for development will depend on the sewage treatment plant’s capacity. If water and sewer usage continues at the same level of usage in the Glenmore development, staff expect that a range between 300 and 400 units may be added to the area.

Approvals of any developments by rezoning within the Village will also be dependent on the completion of several transportation improvements that will improve the volume to capacity ratio of US 250 between Louisa Road and the City of Charlottesville.

These improvements include:

  • Interchange improvements at I-64 and US 250
  • Six-lanes on US 250 from Free Bridge to the I-64 interchange
  • Four-lanes on US 250 from the US 250/I-64 interchange to Route 729 (Milton Road) and, possibly, Glenmore Way
  • Intersection improvements at US 250 and Route 729 (Milton Road)
  • Bridge improvement or replacement over railroad at Route 22 (Louisa Road)
  • Addition of eastbound left turn and westbound right turn lanes on US 250 at Route 616 (Black Cat Road)
Senior planner Elaine Echols presented the updated draft which also included clarifications regarding service standards for fire/rescue and police.

During the public comment period, Shadwell resident William Orr commented that a true village should include those who live in other surrounding areas and not just those on the east side of 250.  

“A true village should have more landowners involved,” said Orr.

However, the Commissioners all agreed that development should not be expanded into nearby rural areas.

“I think the community has really spoken, decades ago, and more recently here, that there is a lot of concern about road capacity, sewer capacity, water capacity, school capacity and that we as a community made a commitment that we want to do good planning,” said Chairman Eric Strucko. “We want to develop our growth areas, we want to engage in rural area protection and preservation, but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t impose burdens.”

The Board of Supervisors will review the master plan draft in 2010 at a date to be determined.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
  • 01:00 – Senior planner Elaine Echols presents
  • 04:45 – Shadwell resident William Oar comments
  • 07:56 – End of public comment
  • 09:35 – Commissioner Linda Porterfield makes motion to recommend master plan to Board of Supervisors
  • 09:53 – Chairman Eric Strucko comments
  • 12:15 – Linda Porterfield, Calvin Morris, Eric Strucko, and Bill Edgerton vote for approval of recommendation

November 19, 2009

Turnover coming to Albemarle County Planning Commission

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, November 19, 2009

There will be at least three new members of the Albemarle County Planning Commission when it convenes for the first time in early January.  The changes are a result of the recent local elections and decisions by some commissioners not to seek reappointment.  That could mean big changes in the commission's approach to master planning, zoning regulations, and other key issues.

  20090521-snow-thomas
Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow in May 2009 at the Albemarle County Republican caucus

Each newly elected member of the Board of Supervisors has the option of either nominating a candidate or advertising for applications. Duane Snow, elected in the Samuel Miller district, and Rodney Thomas, elected in the Rio district, have both chosen to advertise planning commission positions to the public. Applications will be accepted on the County’s website through December 16.

The Rio District seat on the commission is currently held by developer Don Franco, who was appointed to a vacancy earlier this year. Franco, a principal with the firm KG Associates has already applied for the position, and says he thinks his experience as a developer qualifies him for continued service as a commissioner.

Thomas, a former Chairman of the Planning Commission, said in an interview that he will keep an open mind as he wades through the applications.

“I would rather someone come in with no agenda,” Thomas said. “I would like someone who knows a lot about the area and has knowledge about planning.” He said he would not rule out reappointing Franco.

Duane Snow will select someone to replace Eric Strucko, who won election to the Samuel Miller seat on the county school board. Snow could not be reached for comment .

The entire Board will also vote on the planning commission’s seventh member, an at-large representative. That seat’s current occupant, Marcia Joseph, has decided not to reapply. Joseph has served three two-year terms and said she wanted to give someone else a chance at representing the entire county.

“What I’m hoping is that the person they select will have the knowledge and history and has been here long enough to understand the workings of the community,” Joseph said.

20070710-Edgerton Outgoing Planning Commissioner Bill Edgerton
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) has declined to be reappointed to a third term. Supervisor Dennis Rooker said in an interview that he has a candidate in mind, but is not ready to make the name public. Rooker said he wants to make sure that his choice shares his same planning philosophy.

“With Bill Edgerton, I had that for eight years,” Rooker said. He will talk with his candidate about master planning, transportation and the County’s designated growth areas.

After the last county election in 2007, Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier advertised the Scottsville seat that had been held by William Craddock and selected Linda Porterfield’s name from a stack of applications. She will serve two more years, as will Tom Loach (White Hall) and Cal Morris (Rivanna).

Since being on the Commission, Porterfield has advocated positions that at times were at odds with her colleagues. For instance, she has called for the County to change its rules that limit development at exits off of Interstate 64.

“I’m on the record as wanting to see the county of Albemarle try to attract as much business industry as possible because it helps us with our tax base,” Porterfield said.

Joseph, who in 2007 ran as a Democrat challenging Supervisor Ken Boyd for re-election to the Rivanna seat, said she is not too worried about the upcoming changes in the composition of the commission.

“Whatever your political leanings are, some times [commissioners] rise above that and look at the community as a whole and what’s good for the community,” Joseph said.

Rooker said he hoped that the new commission will be efficient.

“The planning commission can save the Board of Supervisors immense amounts of time if they are doing a thorough job of vetting the planning issues before they get to us,” Rooker said.

Edgerton said he hoped the newcomers would be well acquainted with county issues.

 “I think [we need] somebody who has had some experience in the development arena in Albemarle County, but is also willing to try to figure out how to balance community needs against property rights,” Edgerton said.