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July 29, 2011

Bypass opponents say impact on schools not taken into consideration

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, July 29, 2011

Many opponents of the now-approved Western Bypass of U.S. 29 want an upcoming environmental review of the project to take a fresh look at how the four-lane highway would affect the health of students attending several schools along the right of way.

Numerous residents have both raised and dismissed environmental health concerns related to the bypass during public hearings this month.

While not addressed by Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization prior to its 3-2 vote to authorize the 6.2-mile road Wednesday, the matter is expected to be closely scrutinized as part of the road’s final design and construction.

“Current information, based on relatively recent studies, shows that children whose homes and schools are close to highways have an increased long-term incidents of respiratory disorders and learning problems,” said Albemarle County resident Beth Kuhn at the July 20 meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

An environmental impact statement approved by the Federal Highways Administration in 1993 evaluated the road’s path close to Albemarle High School, Jack Jouett Middle School and Mary Greer Elementary School.

However, the document claimed the road “would not directly impact any of these schools” even though the road would be between 600 feet and 1,200 feet from two of the schools.

A supplemental environmental impact statement conducted in 2002 used the same language. Since then, Agnor-Hurt Elementary has opened on Berkmar Drive close to the bypass route. The southern terminus will also encompass more land surrounding St. Anne’s-Belfield School.

Dr. Charles Battig, a retired anesthesiologist and supporter of the bypass, said “the danger is in the dose.”

“Yes, there are lots of nasty compounds out in the environment, a lot of them happen to be natural,” said Battig to the MPO Wednesday following several speakers who outlined health concerns. “The fact that you can name 100 different chemicals in your body doesn’t mean they are poisonous.”

Dr. Thomas Platt-Millls heads the division of allergy and immunology at the University of Virginia’s Department of Medicine. He said scientists have a better understanding now of how air pollution can lead to asthma and other respiratory ailments.

“Evidence that having children attending schools close to highways has increased really considerably over the last 10 years,” Platt-Mills said. “The data is clear that this is a real risk and it shouldn’t be done without thinking about it.”

Kuhn and others appealed to the CTB to delay its vote until more research could be conducted.

“Currently about 4,000 children attend these schools,” Kuhn said. “Many of these students will pass their entire K-12 education in proximity to the road.”

Cooper Walmsley, who works in VDOT”s environment review section, told the CTB he expects the Federal Highway Administration to ask for a re-evaluation before the project can go to construction.

“We have an environmental approval but so much time has passed that we think FHWA will want an environmental assessment,” Walmsley said. “The purpose will be to decide if another impact statement is necessary.”

Doug Hecox, a press officer with the Federal Highway Administration, said environmental impact statements are only valid for three years if no major steps to advance the highway project have occurred. After that time, a written re-evaluation of the EIS is needed.

“An EIS for this project was completed and signed, and a supplemental EIS signed in 2003,” Hecox said. “We have to go back and re-evaluate in writing that both the EIS and supplemental EIS remain valid or if there have been changes in the area, changes in the neighborhoods and changes in traffic patterns.”

Hecox said the re-evaluation will take a look at whether there is new evidence to make sure effective mitigations are in place and the project is as well planned as possible.

Scott Vande Pol, a University of Virginia pathologist who lives on Lambs Road, said the environmental review must take into account the effect of air pollution on school children.

“Previous environmental assessments have not addressed this issue,” Vande Pol said. “Impact statements only address what they are mandated to address. So, for example, they must address endangered species, farm land use and historic properties. But they do not address children’s health.”

Supervisor Rodney L. Thomas, who voted in favor of the road as one of Albemarle’s MPO representatives, said he will push for the school issues to be evaluated as part of the project’s environmental assessment.

“I will be a supporter of sound barriers to lessen the impact on the schools and the properties,” Thomas said.

Financial consultants commend water authority as it prepares to borrow for infrastructure

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, July 29, 2011

While the national debt crisis has the U.S. credit rating on the brink of a downgrade and Washington politicians tied up in knots in search of compromise, Charlottesville-Albemarle officials received a more optimistic report this week about local financial planning.

Financial consultant Davenport & Co. told the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority board that it was well positioned to take on more debt to fund its capital improvement budget while maintaining its credit rating.

At the RWSA board meeting Tuesday, city and county officials also said negotiations on the cost-sharing agreement for water and sewer services were progressing and could be finalized in September or October.

Ted Cole and Courtney Rodgers, senior vice presidents with Davenport & Co., were asked to evaluate the RWSA’s financial condition and ability to fund capital projects.

“The strongest municipal credit is a AAA rated credit, that’s the best credit [rating] that the municipal market recognizes,” Cole said. “[Standard and Poor’s] upgraded the authority just this spring from AA to AA+, which is a very strong accomplishment in this economy.”

“You are in very good position as it relates to your bond ratings,” Cole added. “You have over the last several years worked your way up toward that AAA level, and we’d be hopeful over time with continued strong financial performance and management that you can achieve that goal.”

Rebecca Quinn, chairwoman of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said that when it comes to long-term financing, her group wants to know specifics about the impact the approved $140 million water plan will have on ratepayers.

Quinn’s group opposes the approved 50-year water plan, and advocates for more study of whether dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir could provide enough water for the region or play a bigger role in any long-term strategy.

“I haven’t looked closely at it,” Quinn said referring to Davenport’s presentation materials. “It wasn’t clear on the surface whether it anticipates the water plan. I don’t know if all of the water plan elements are even in the CIP?”

Last year, the RWSA approved a $173 million, five-year capital improvement budget, of which about 70 percent is for sewer projects. About $44 million, or 25 percent, was budgeted for the water plan’s implementation, most of that for construction of the earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

In an interview, Rodgers said Davenport didn’t get into the details of rates or specific elements of the water plan. The report did indicate the RWSA would need to secure another $84.2 million to fully fund the five-year capital plan.

Davenport recommended the RWSA seek 5 percent to 7 percent annual growth in revenues to service additional debt in the range of $65 million to $86.6 million.

“We are seeing these types of revenue increases throughout the state,” said Rodgers. “It’s not going to be uncommon.”
 
Cost-sharing

An open question for the past year has been how costs for the water plan and any dredging project will be split between the Albemarle County Service Authority and the city of Charlottesville, RWSA’s two customers.

The current cost-sharing agreement dates to 2003 and the ACSA and the city have been negotiating new terms since this time last year.

“The cost [sharing agreement] probably won’t be coming to the county service authority board or to the City Council for approval until September at the earliest,” said City Manager Maurice Jones.

“We’ve had active discussions between our board, the City Council and the two staffs,” said Gary O’Connell, the ACSA executive director. “Our attorneys have been working on various options and I’m hopeful that we are arriving at the point where there will be an agreement.

“We’ve worked through drafts on probably 15 issues in a fairly complicated property use agreement, and most of those items are agreed to,” O’Connell added. “The biggest question is whether there will be support on City Council to move the whole [water plan] forward and stand up and vote for that, and hopefully that’s where we will be in September.”

Quinn said any agreement should consider which parts of the water plan are classified as maintenance vs. new infrastructure for growth. For example, Quinn said the new supply pipeline, projected to cost about $63 million, should not fall completely in the maintenance category just because a pipeline in use today is being retired.

“We are concerned about comments about [maintaining] the Sugar Hollow Pipeline costing about the same as a new pipeline from South Fork to Ragged Mountain,” Quinn said. “On the face of it, it just doesn’t make sense.”

O’Connell said the agreement’s conditions and triggers related to a future increase in height of the new earthen dam were among the less complicated issues being discussed.

In February, City Council and the Albemarle supervisors agreed to have the earthen dam’s first phase raise the water level at the reservoir by 30 feet. The foundation will be built to support a future increase of another 12 feet, or 42 feet overall.

More complicated, according to O’Connell, is fixing the percentages each locality will pay.

“The pipeline and the dam create future new [water storage] capacity,” O’Connell said. “Who owns that and who pays for how much of that capacity? That’s another issue we are trying to work through.”

July 27, 2011

Divided MPO votes to move forward with bypass

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization has paved the way for construction of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 through Albemarle County.

The MPO policy board voted three-to-two Wednesday night to remove language that blocked money from being allocated to construction of the project.

20110727-hearing “There comes a point where you’ve listened and it’s time to move forward,” said Albemarle Supervisor Duane E. Snow.

Snow voted with fellow Supervisor Rodney L. Thomas to approve the funding. They were joined by Jim Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.

City Councilors Kristin Szakos and Satyendra Huja voted against the motion to approve funding, which came after more than 100 people spoke at the second public hearing on the topic.

Roughly two-thirds of the speakers argued that the MPO should not remove language from its transportation improvement program that prevents further funding for the project.

The vote for approval came after the city’s two officials pleaded with the board to defer the vote until August. A motion made by Szakos was defeated on a two-to-three vote.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110727-MPO-29Bypass

Download Download the July 27, 2011 letter from Sean Connaughton, Secretary of Transportation

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $197 million in funding for the 6.2-mile-long bypass, as well as a $32.5 million project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes between Polo Grounds Road and Timberwood Boulevard.

The latter project is called for in Albemarle County’s Places29 Master Plan.

After the MPO’s first public hearing on July 14, Snow and Thomas said they would not vote for the bypass unless they received guarantees that the CTB also would fund other priorities identified in Places29.

In a letter made available shortly before the public hearing, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton addressed four projects identified in a letter to him by the MPO.

He specifically recommended that the CTB allocate in June 2012 the $10 million in funding to construct Hillsdale Drive Extended and $8.4 million to advance construction of the Belmont Bridge replacement.

Connaughton promised no funding for Berkmar Drive Extended, however, offering only to prepare a design concept.

“I am directing VDOT as part of the Route 29 Bypass design to include the conceptual design and layouts of Berkmar Drive Extended including the river crossing to ensure the Bypass does not preclude the construction of Berkmar Drive Extended,” Connaughton wrote.

Connaughton also said he expects the city to retain its investment in a project to add a second lane on the westbound on-ramp at the intersection of southbound U.S. 29 and the U.S. 250 Bypass. VDOT will still take over administration of the project, as has been previously reported.

After the public hearing, the letter was read to the dozens of people who were still in attendance.

Szakos said Connaughton’s letter did not specify when the funding would actually be allocated to the project.

“It’s a very vague phrasing that doesn’t commit to anything,” Szakos said.

20110727-snow-thomas
Albemarle Supervisors Duane Snow & Rodney Thomas

Thomas pointed out that the secretary doesn’t have the power to make decisions for the CTB.
Snow said the letter satisfied his conditions.

Szakos said she felt that taking a vote without input from city staff on the letter undermines the whole process.

“I don’t think this meets the conditions because it doesn’t even necessarily say he’s recommending full funding,” Szakos said. “It doesn’t offer any concrete assurances.”

Jeff Gleason, a county resident who serves as deputy director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Connaughton only offered to recommend funding. He said it was disgraceful Connaughton’s letter was only released to the public at the meeting.

“That is unacceptable for an issue so important to this community,” Gleason said. “We can see these are not commitments. If they were serious about this, they would have made those recommendations at the last CTB meeting.”

County resident Michael Johnson said he supported the bypass because it would be a long-term investment in transportation infrastructure.

“Fifty years ago, our predecessors built the U.S. 250 Bypass,” Johnson said. “Can you imagine what traffic would be like if they hadn’t?”

Rick Edwards, a business owner from Lynchburg, said he frequently is delayed on business trips to Washington while driving through Charlottesville.

“The bottleneck traffic in Charlottesville makes travel time consuming and unsafe and the bypass will alleviate these concerns,” Edwards said.

Nancy Goodrich said she agreed with those from Lynchburg who say a bypass of Charlottesville is needed.

“There is no disagreement over that fact, but there is terrific disagreement about what that plan should be,” Goodrich said. “As it is resurrected and heading toward implementation, the plan raises many questions and we need answers.”

Area resident John Owen, a long-time opponent of the road, conceded defeat.

“What we should have done is made friends and not enemies with Lynchburg,” Owen said. “We should have worked with them on objective criteria on what makes a good bypass.”

Live audio streaming of today's MPO public hearing on Western Bypass

 

Donate_white Can you help with a small gift to keep this broadcast ad-free

Charlottesville Tomorrow will be streaming a live audio broadcast of the Wednesday, July 27 meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The board will take public feedback on the U.S. 29 Western Bypass.

Broadcast starts at 4:00 PM July 27, 2011


Stream videos at Ustream

Boyd holds town hall to explain support for bypass

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More than 200 people packed into a gym at Baker-Butler Elementary School Tuesday night to learn more about how the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 would affect Forest Lakes and other neighborhoods in northern Albemarle.

20110726-boyd
Albemarle Supervisor Ken Boyd

Supervisor Ken Boyd called a town hall meeting to address concerns that the Forest Lakes community might lose access to U.S. 29 because of the northern terminus.

Boyd said information circulated by opponents of the road claiming Ashwood Boulevard will be cut off is incorrect.

“That is not the case,” Boyd said. “That information came from a low-level staffer in Northern Virginia who wrote an e-mail that was picked up in a [Freedom of Information Act] request and then distributed.This is the kind of thing we have to stop. We can’t keep having misinformation on what this bypass is.”

Several engineers from the Virginia Department of Transportation were on hand to discuss the project and emphasized that the northern terminus as depicted on maps is only a concept.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110726-Boyd-Town-Hall


“The design has not moved forward for nearly 15 years, so what you’re looking at is quite dated,” said Jim Utterback, administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.

Utterback said concerns that Forest Lakes South would lose access to U.S. 29 at Ashwood Boulevard are unfounded.

“That is not going to happen as far as the bypass project,” Utterback said. “We’re not going to eliminate access to U.S. 29 from Ashwood Boulevard.”

“The [northern terminus] was designed with the assumption that the Meadow Creek Parkway would come through,” said Mohammad Mirshahi, VDOT’s chief deputy engineer. Plans to extend the Meadow Creek Parkway north of Rio Road were shelved in the early 2000s.

20110726-vdot
VDOT engineer Mohammad Mirshahi explains how a larger Meadow Creek Parkway informed earlier designs for the northern terminus

“We can go back and change the design so the footprint will be much, much smaller,” Mirshahi said, adding that blueprints for the terminus will be created using “context-sensitive design” with input from the community.

“We won’t do this in a vacuum,” Mirshahi said. “There will be plenty of opportunities for the public to express their thoughts.”

VDOT officials also answered questions about a project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes from Polo Grounds Road to the Hollymead Town Center.

“All we’re trying to do with this new project is eliminate what people call the hourglass,” said VDOT engineer John Giometti. He said scoping for that project won’t get under way for at least a year because the money is not yet available.

Giometti added the widening project would also not require the closure of Ashwood Boulevard.
Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated $197 million to the bypass and $32.5 million for the widening project.

One person at Tuesday’s meeting asked if the widening could be done without the bypass, but Boyd cut him off and pointed out that the VDOT officials were not on hand to answer political questions.

“We’ve been told the money to widen 29 will not be made available unless there is a bypass,” Boyd said.

“We’re being blackmailed,” shouted a Forest Lakes South resident who did not want to be identified.

Boyd said the state is pushing for the road, but the community would benefit from a new road.

“My interest is getting trucks off the highway,” Boyd said. “This is an opportunity to get more [transportation] money than this county has gotten in many years.”

“We shouldn’t be held hostage by the state,” shouted Mike Farabaugh, an opponent of the road.

The event was the second time Boyd has convened a town-hall meeting to explain his position on a controversial topic. In January he sought public input regarding the possibility of expanding the growth area across from Forest Lakes but ultimately voted against it.

“You all were opposed to it, so I went along with your wishes,” Boyd said.

The MPO will hold a public hearing at 4 p.m. today at the Albemarle County Office Building to determine whether to remove language in its transportation improvement program that blocks funding from being allocated to construction of the bypass. Albemarle’s two representatives on the MPO have said they will not vote to change that language unless there is a written guarantee that other local projects will be funded.

Rodney L. Thomas, chairman of the MPO, said he had received a commitment from VDOT, but was unwilling to share the information.

"We are going to announce that at the MPO [tonight],” Thomas said.

20110726-design-looking
VDOT engineers showed another concept that would not involve a flyover crossing U.S. 29 near Forest Lakes.

Many in the audience said that the road was a fait accompli and expressed frustration the MPO would grant approval before so many questions are answered.

“This meeting should have happened a long time ago and it’s the kind of meeting that should have happened before the decision was made,” said Scott Elliff of the Forest Lakes Community . “It is good we had the meeting, but it’s a week late and $250 million short.”

Elliff said he was pleased to hear that there would be public input into the design of the northern terminus.

“We know this area better than anyone,” Elliff said.

Forest Lakes South resident Steven Janes said some of his questions were answered, but not all.

“Our concern is to lessen the footprint impact of the northern terminus,” Janes said. “We wish it would terminate north. People coming off the new bypass heading northbound on 29 will be hit with four traffic lights in a row as soon at they get off. That is going to create a lot of traffic back-up.”

Water authority boss gets a raise, pump station sites get scrutiny

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority board has approved a 3.18 percent raise for its executive director, Thomas L. Frederick, Jr.

Hired in 2004, Frederick will make an annual salary of $132,803, an increase from $128,710.

Frederick also oversees the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, and it was at a joint meeting of the two boards on Tuesday where his annual performance evaluation was completed and combined annual salary set.

The RWSA board also discussed where to place a sewer pump station upgrade near the Woolen Mills neighborhood.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110726-RWSA

“The board felt that Tom did an exemplary job this year and deserved to be at the high end of the bonus range,” said Michael Gaffney, chairman of the RWSA and RSWA boards. “We have truly appreciated all of Tom’s hard work over the last eight years and we look forward to the next 10 years, if we can keep him that long.”

Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, the county’s elected official on both boards, made the motion to increase Frederick’s salary, which was approved unanimously.

“The salary range [increase for staff] … for this year is between 1.82 percent increase and a 3.18 percent increase, the first being for ‘meets expectations’ and the 3.18 percent for ‘top achievers,’” Boyd said.

A key issue discussed in the remainder the meeting related to the study of three sites for the location of a new sewer pump station. The capacity of the existing pump station in Woolen Mills is being increased to improve its reliability and protect the environment.

In May, the RWSA board was unable to narrow the list of sites under consideration, It approved further study of three locations. Hazen and Sawyer, an environmental engineering firm, was authorized to receive up to about $430,000 to study locations known as concepts A, D, and E.

Concept A is the pump station’s current location in the city’s Woolen Mills neighborhood. Concept D is a location across the Rivanna River in Albemarle on property owned in part by State Farm Insurance.

Concept E is a location on RWSA property suggested by residents of Woolen Mills, who have lobbied to remove the pump station from its location near existing homes and Riverview Park. It involves drilling a 2,000-foot-long tunnel to extend the sewer pipe to a point closer to the Moores Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Janice R. Carroll, an engineer with Hazen and Sawyer, reported on her firm’s investigation of two questions raised about these sites: Was there enough room on land already owned by RWSA for concept A? And is there an alternative site on the State Farm Property for concept D.

“The upgrade cannot fit within the existing parcel,” said Carroll, describing the less than half-acre of land that is home to the existing pump station. “The further evaluation of concept A is proceeding, and it will encompass more area than just that parcel.”

Hazen and Sawyer also reviewed the feasibility and costs of placing the pump station for concept D at a location more acceptable to State Farm Insurance.

“We met with State Farm Insurance right after the board’s May decision,” Frederick said. “State Farm asked us to look at the opposite corner where the property faces the Rivanna River.”

The board was told Tuesday that State Farm “strongly opposes” any use of its property. However, Frederick asked the board if it could pick one location there for concept D.

“It turns out that the northwest corner does add $3 million to concept D,” Frederick added.

The original site has an estimated construction cost of $39 million whereas the site requested by State Farm would cost $42 million.

“You’ve answered one question for me as far as [concept] A, if we can’t keep it within the current footprint that’s there, the city says it will never approve a larger footprint there,” Boyd said. “Why waste any more money on that?”

The same occurs on the other side of the river in the case of State Farm,” Boyd added. “The Board of Supervisors is never going to give the necessary approvals to have option D implemented.”

The board acknowledged concept E would be the best solution from the community’s point of view, particularly in light of city and county opposition to the alternatives. However, Frederick argued for studying more options rather than less to ensure at least one plan could be approved before the end of the year.

“Based on what we know, I don’t blame anybody for wanting to be optimistic in hoping that [concept] E turns out to be something that is doable,” Frederick said. “If there is serious debate … and we have pushed ourselves into November getting the answers, there’s just not going to be enough time to get it done.”

“I understand how in this community sometimes we need to sit down and debate things,” Frederick added.

The RWSA board authorized Hazen and Sawyer to focus on the more expensive location for concept D.  Hazen and Sawyer will continue to evaluate all three concepts and present its cost estimates to the RWSA in late September with a final plan agreed to in December by city and county officials.

July 24, 2011

MPO may defer bypass vote if local projects are not funded

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, July 24, 2011

The chairman of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization said he may postpone a key vote on the Western Bypass if a list of other local transportation priorities is not guaranteed funding by state officials.

“I’m on the edge right now,” Albemarle Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas, a supporter of the bypass, said.

On Wednesday, the MPO Policy Board is scheduled to hold the second of two public hearings on whether to amend its transportation improvement program to remove language that blocks funding for construction from being allocated to the bypass.

The city’s two representatives on the MPO have indicated they do not support the project, but Thomas said he wants to win over their votes.

“I do not want to defer the vote on this, but if we have to defer the vote, it would be until after City Council meets to see if we can get the city’s support for the bypass,” Thomas said.

Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated $230 million for the bypass and a second project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes between the South Fork Rivanna River and Hollymead Town Center.

At the end of a nearly three-hour public hearing on July 14 at which 60 people spoke, MPO board members discussed a list of projects they wanted to see funded before voting to amend the transportation improvement program.

A letter was sent to the CTB and state Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton describing the projects and their importance to the region.

Download Download letter from MPO to Secretary Connaughton

“We are willing to do our part to assist in meeting the commonwealth’s transportation needs and respectfully request that the CTB give consideration in helping us meet our local needs,” read the letter, which was signed by Thomas and City Councilor Kristin Szakos, one of two representatives for the city on the MPO.


The list included the completion of Hillsdale Drive Extended, a second lane on the on-ramp to the U.S. 250 Bypass at its interchange with U.S. 29, preliminary design for Berkmar Drive Extended and accelerated funding to replace the city’s Belmont Bridge in 2014. Currently, the bridge is not expected to be rebuilt until at least 2016.

While the letter came up during the CTB’s meeting last week, no promises were made to fund any of those priorities.

Szakos said negotiations would be at a standstill if there are no financial commitments from Richmond for the local priorities.

“If the CTB doesn’t include funding for those projects in a multi-year budget, then I don’t think we have anything to talk about,” Szakos said. “We need to stick to our guns and say this is not the process that we do.”

“As an MPO member, I think it’s irrelevant to even discuss how we’d vote right now because we’re not in a place where we’re ready to take a vote,” Szakos said.

“Those four things that we wanted … [they] haven’t addressed them yet,” Thomas said immediately after the CTB’s vote.

On Saturday, Thomas said he is still negotiating with Virginia Department of Transportation officials in Richmond, but has not yet received a written commitment.

“I’ll find out Monday and we’ll move on from there,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to make it happen and encourage it to make it happen.”

City Councilor Satyendra Huja, the city’s other MPO representative, said he could potentially support the bypass if he received a guarantee that Hillsdale Drive and the Belmont Bridge would be funded.

“I’m not going to make a decision yet but lean towards not supporting because we haven’t gotten anything out of it so far,” Huja said.

After the CTB meeting, Albemarle Supervisor Duane Snow said he had a verbal agreement with VDOT officials and that he was willing to move forward with a vote by the MPO provided the state honors its commitments.

“When we go forward from here and do our resolution of intent to vote for this, it will be based on the items that we put in that resolution,” said Snow, Thomas’ fellow Albemarle representative on the MPO board. “I’m going to vote for [the bypass] if these other items are met.”

Many groups are urging the MPO to defer its vote until firm guarantees are in place.

On Friday, the Southern Environmental Law Center sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors that pointed out the county’s conditions for approval had not been fully met.

“It is essential that the county have clear, firm and legally enforceable conditions in place as part of any vote to amend the MPO’s transportation plans,” wrote Morgan Butler, senior attorney for the SELC.

Download Download SELC's letter to the MPO and the BOS

The SELC letter pointed out that supervisors had said there would be no bypass without a guarantee that the other priorities would be funded.

“The board made clear that it was those other improvements, and not the bypass, that were the chief priority,” Butler wrote. “You promised the public that there would be no vote to approve the bypass unless those other projects were included.”

The Albemarle County School Board has also sent a letter to supervisors and the MPO expressing its concern about the impact on several schools, including Greer Elementary School.

Download Download Albemarle County School Board's letter to the MPO and BOS

“We believe that the children of Albemarle County must be protected from hazards and the ambient noise level should be appropriate for learning and recreation,” wrote School Board Chairman Steve Koleszar.

“The School Board and superintendent respectfully request that the Board of Supervisors and MPO include a requirement for the inclusion of a sound barrier for the U.S. 29 bypass that meets the standards of the Federal Highway Administration,” Koleszar wrote.

July 23, 2011

Environmental groups meet with DEQ to lobby for water plan

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, July 23, 2011

Representatives from four local environmental groups met Friday with the head of the Department of Environmental Quality to make their case for the water supply plan approved in February by Albemarle and Charlottesville.

Last week, the same groups held a news conference to share new information, which they said proves that dredging alone is insufficient to provide water for both human and environmental needs.

“Our message to [DEQ] was that our five environmental groups strongly support the approved city-county water supply plan,” said Robbi Savage, executive director of the Rivanna Conservation Society. “It provides water for people, protects our rivers and costs less than the dredge-only plan, which does none of these.”

Savage was joined at the meeting by representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the League of Women Voters. The fifth environmental organization in the pro-water plan coalition is the Piedmont Environmental Council.

The organizations said they remain fully committed to the goal of increasing stream flows in the Moormans and Rivanna rivers, a benefit they said state regulators also will insist be addressed in any water plan.

“What we learned from DEQ today was that they want to see the same level of river protection in the permit modification as what we have right now [in the approved water plan],” said Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia and a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority board of directors.

“State law requires that in developing local water supply plans, that they be designed to meet human needs for water while protecting the river and the aquatic wildlife,” added Rick Parrish, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning, confirmed his participation in the meeting, which took place at DEQ Director David K. Paylor’s office in Richmond.

The DEQ has previously informed the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority that the water plan, which now features an earthen dam built in phases, is a major change to the plan DEQ first authorized in 2008. In an interview, Kudlas said the meeting Friday focused on the process for reviewing the permit modifications, but not the merits of the current request from the RWSA.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the RWSA, said his staff had been responding to “minor questions” from DEQ about the permit changes.

“The DEQ will schedule a public hearing and a time for public comments,” Frederick said. “I don’t know the dates yet, but I know there is interest on both the part of the RWSA and the DEQ to resolve this issue by the end of the year.”

The lobbying comes in the midst of a hotly contested Democratic primary battle for the City Council. With construction on the new earthen dam delayed by the DEQ’s ongoing review, the fall election will shape the city’s position on the future of dredging, the dam and the entire water supply.

Parrish said he left the meeting with the impression it would take four to six months before the DEQ’s review would be completed. On that schedule, the water plan still will be in flux until after a new majority of the City Council has been elected in November.

The water plan has become a major issue separating the candidates running for three seats on the council. At a Democratic candidate forum last week, Dede Smith, Collette Blount, Brevy Cannon and James Halfaday all indicated they favor dredging and conservation as the primary approach for the water plan.

Incumbent Councilor Satyendra Huja and challengers Kathy Galvin and Paul Beyer indicated a preference for the earthen dam.

Cost estimates for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir from Gannett Fleming in 2004 and 2008, and from HDR Engineering in 2010, indicate that dredging will be more expensive than the construction of the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain and produce much less water supply storage.

HDR Engineering said a one-time, seven-year dredging project could be done at South Fork for about $34 million to $40 million. With continued sedimentation at South Fork, the environmental groups said Friday that any effort to continuously dredge and maintain the original volume of the 1966 reservoir for the entire 50-year period of the water plan would be two to three times as expensive.

The RWSA continues to work with HDR to explore maintenance dredging of South Fork as a project separate from the water plan, last month budgeting $3.5 million for dredging at least a small portion of the reservoir.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris has endorsed three of the four candidates who favor dredging — Smith, Blount and Cannon. In February, Norris was on the losing end of the 3-2 council vote that approved the water plan negotiated with the county. Supporting the plan at the time were Huja, along with David Brown and Kristin Szakos. Brown is not running for re-election and Szakos and Norris are only midway through their four-year terms.

At the candidate forum, Galvin asked Smith to explain how a water plan without a new dam for water storage would impact the stream flow goals included in the approved plan.

“Those requirements were determined by scientists throughout Virginia examining the needs of aquatic wildlife, and the state DEQ has to consider those environmental needs, along with human needs, when issuing or denying permits,” Galvin said. “Aren’t you just claiming that the facts about environmental needs should be ignored just because those facts show that a dredging-only water plan won’t work?”

“I feel that … improved stream flows at the Moormons River should be addressed separately from the water plan,” Smith responded. “I do not feel that it is necessary to tie them to the water plan, but when they are, that means that city rate payers … are basically paying for a river restoration project.”

“I absolutely support restoring and improving stream flows in the Moormons River,” she said, “just not under the scenario that they have it now.”

July 22, 2011

Questions remain about future of bypass

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, July 22, 2011

Opponents of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 are hopeful the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization will defer next week’s vote on whether to move forward with the project until key questions can be answered.

On Wednesday, the CTB moved $197 million into the bypass’ account, but that money cannot be allocated to the project unless the MPO amends its transportation improvement program.

“When you have a piece as important as the [design of the] northern interchange unknown, it is premature to sign off before we know what the impacts are going to be,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Watch a video of the bypass route

Western Bypass Video
by Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

The MPO will hold a final public hearing next Wednesday on whether to add the bypass to its list of approved projects. The MPO has blocked money from being spent on construction since 1996.

The Virginia Department of Transportation halted preliminary engineering for the project in 1998 and a design for the northern interchange near the Forest Lakes South neighborhood was never finished.

Butler said existing plans appear to cut off access to U.S. 29 for Ashwood Boulevard, but he and the community cannot know for certain until a design is complete. A vote next week could relinquish authority the Albemarle supervisors want to retain over the final design.

“The county will lose their influence to leverage the project at that point,” Butler said.

“This is obviously important to our Forest Lakes community, and it is impossible to comment without seeing what it would look like, how tall it would be, how close to existing residences it would be,” said Scott Elliff, a member of the Forest Lakes Community Association Board of Directors.

“This move should be taken only after a review of the facts, consideration and analysis of various alternatives, substantial public input, aggressive negotiations and careful deliberations,” Elliff said in a letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors earlier this month.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said in an email he is working to make sure that no harm comes to the Forest Lakes community.

“I am absolutely committed to maintaining, and even improving the quality of life for Forest Lakes residents,” Boyd said.

Boyd has invited residents of northern Albemarle County to attend a community meeting Tuesday at Baker-Butler Elementary, where representatives from VDOT will be on hand.

Other opponents of the road are concerned that the project will exceed the $197 million allocated to it by the CTB.

“The rights of way for both the northern terminus and the southern terminus have not yet been purchased or acquired to date,” said Jack Sanford, the president of Faulconer Construction. Faulconer’s equipment storage yard is in the path of the bypass off Woodburn Road.

In his testimony to the CTB, Sanford calculated that the northern interchange would cost at least $75 million, and the southern interchange would cost $100 million.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker agreed with Sanford’s estimates.

“The southern terminus will be a triple-decker spaghetti interchange and like nothing we have ever seen in this area,” Rooker said. “I think they have substantially underestimated the construction costs and they’ll be back along the way to ask for another $100 million.”

So far, 83 of 122 target parcels along the alignment have been purchased at a cost of $33.7 million. The allocation by the CTB on Wednesday specified that $71.7 million would be spent to acquire the remaining parcels.

Documents released to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO) under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2007, VDOT estimated there are 18 parcels north of the South Fork Rivanna River that would need to be acquired. The cost of purchasing these properties plus condemnation costs range from $29 million to $40 million depending on how much land would be taken.

The exact figure won’t be known until a northern interchange is designed.

At the southern end, seven parcels remain to be purchased at a cost of $16.5 million, including two parcels owned by the University of Virginia Foundation.

“I have not been contacted by VDOT about these parcels,” said Tim Rose, the foundation’s chief executive officer.

“Should land need to be acquired for a road project, I presume it would be purchased from us at fair market value,” Rose said.

Carter Myers, a former member of the CTB and long-time bypass champion, said he did not think the right of way costs would exceed $71 million.

“We’ve bought almost all the houses, and it’s amazingly raw land north [of the river],” Myers said to the CTB this week. “The northern terminus probably needs a little bit of work [but] we’ve got a Board of Supervisor member, Ken Boyd, on this project and … I’d ask you to work with him on that northern terminus.”

Much of the rural land in that area is owned by local developer Wendell Wood. Wood was unsuccessful in his bid earlier this year to have that land upzoned for commercial development as part of the Places29 Master Plan.

July 21, 2011

Audio & Video of Charlottesville City Council candidate forum

On July 20, 2011, Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress co-sponsored a city council candidate forum for the seven candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for three of the five seats on Charlottesville City Council.

About 150 people filled the Burley Middle School auditorium to hear the candidates respond to questions posed by the moderator, the audience, and each other.  Read this article for complete coverage by the Daily Progress.

20110720-Forum743x750
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110720-CityDemsForum

Download Download complete transcript (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

The Charlottesville Democratic Party will hold an “unassembled caucus,” also known as a Firehouse Primary, on Saturday, August 20th, from 9am to 7pm at Burley Middle School to select its three council nominees.  One candidate for Clerk of the Charlottesville Circuit Court will also be nominated.

In the primary, Charlottesville Democrats may vote for up to 7 council candidates and rank them by order of preference.  This ranking is to facilitate an instant runoff in the event there is not a simple majority.

The candidate forum participants
  • Paul Beyer
  • Colette E. Blount
  • Brevy Cannon
  • Kathleen M. Galvin
  • James Halfaday
  • Satyendra Huja
  • Dede Smith
  • Brian Wheeler, Moderator

Charlottesville City Council Democratic
candidate forum
from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

 

Quick response topics

MEADOW CREEK PARKWAY
Do you support construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway in the city of Charlottesville, YES or NO?

WESTERN BYPASS
Do you support the Western Bypass route now in place if the state fully funds its construction as well as fully funding other local transportation priorities such as the Belmont Bridge replacement, Hillsdale Drive Extended, Berkmar Drive Extended, the widening of Route 29, and the improvement of the Best Buy ramp to the U.S. 250 Bypass? YES or NO?

WATER PLAN
As the primary approach for adding to our long term water supply, do you favor dredging and water conservation before construction of a new or taller dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, YES or NO?

Moderator questions (each candidate received 3 of the 7 questions)

Transportation
What is your transportation agenda for the city and how will you fund AND implement it? 

City-County relations
Much is made of the status of city-county relationships and the importance of maintaining and strengthening this relationship. On a grading scale of A to F, how would you grade this relationship, and how do you think it can be improved?

Performance measurements for local government
Do you think the city is doing a good job of measuring its performance on the implementation of its vision and council priorities? Would you favor any specific other approaches or methodology?

Water supply
Are you planning to seek a new vote by the council on the previously approved 50-year water supply plan and how would you change the plan, if at all?

Role of City Council
What are the top responsibilities that you believe City Council should be actively and consistently engaged in?

Education
Are you satisfied with the performance of the city schools? How would you support continuous improvement as a member of City Council?

Workforce development / Jobs
What do you see as the best opportunities to develop career-ladder jobs that city residents can pursue?

After the moderator questions, the candidates each answered one question from the audience.  Then each candidate had an opportunity to ask another candidate a question.