MPO area may expand
The executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has told members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization that census data may show that Lake Monticello and Ruckersville qualify to be added to the MPO’s boundaries.
“There might be some expansion of the MPO boundary at the discretion of this board,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the TJPDC.
Federal law requires areas with urbanized populations greater than 50,000 to have an MPO for the purposes of transportation planning. The MPO is responsible for maintaining a long-range transportation plan, as well as a transportation improvement plan that coordinates funding.
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The U.S. Census Bureau will publish a map this spring of the areas that the federal government considers to be urbanized. Greene County’s population increased 20 percent from 2000 to 2010. That county’s most recent Comprehensive Plan also designated Ruckersville as part of its designated growth area.
“We have been hearing that Greene County thinks Ruckersville should be part of the MPO and we expect that when the time comes that they are going to want to come in to make their case,” Williams said at the MPO’s meeting late last month.
He said he has heard similar ideas from Fluvanna County about Lake Monticello. Crozet is not currently part of the MPO planning region, but also could also be added.
“We could get an MPO that looks a little bit like an octopus,” said Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos.
Williams said it would be up to the existing members of the MPO to decide if they want to expand.
However, he added that if the Environmental Protection Agency determines that the region is exceeding air quality guidelines, the MPO’s boundaries would automatically be extended to include all of Albemarle County.
“They are the boundaries that we use for all of our planning purposes … they need to extend to what we view as the edge of our 20-year planning and development horizon,” Williams said.
The MPO uses a computer model to generate traffic projections based upon data from the census and other sources. The agency is currently updating the model. The new information will be used as part of the planning work that will go into the update of the long-range transportation plan.
“We think it’s going to be a very powerful tool going forward for the MPO to use in our modeling and traffic analysis purposes,” Williams said.
The model will be available for the Virginia Department of Transportation and local governments to use after it is calibrated later this year.
However, VDOT Culpeper District administrator James Utterback said the TJPDC could improve its coordination with VDOT on changes to the model.
“There are fairly rigid protocols for these things and policies for procedures for updating and maintaining the models,” Utterback said. “If the goal is to have an accepted model, I don’t want to go a couple of months and all of sudden VDOT has a lot of questions about the changes.”
But Williams said he believes it had been appropriately vetted by the MPO’s Tech Committee and added that he has been coordinating with engineers with VDOT’s Central Office.
“They understood the changes that we made and didn’t voice any specific disagreements with those changes,” Williams said.
Utterback asked for documentation that the coordination had occurred, which Williams said he would provide.
The long-range transportation plan currently under development sets a planning horizon of 2040. The plan will be adopted by the MPO in the spring of 2014. The last was adopted in May 2009 but was amended in July to allow federal funding for the Western Bypass.
Williams also told the MPO Policy Board that the Federal Highway Administration is warning VDOT and all MPOs in the state that its transportation improvement program is in violation of federal code.
“They do not believe the process that is being used now to develop the [state and local plans] conforms with federal requirements, particularly in the area of fiscal constraint and also project prioritization,” Williams said.
He added that he did not believe this would invalidate previous plans, but would mean some changes to the process in the future. However, if the FHWA did not approve state and local plans, no federal funds could be disbursed to the state.
In other news, ridership on Charlottesville Area Transit continues to grow.
“We had over 2.3 million riders [last fiscal year], which is our highest year, and that represented more than a 5 percent increase compared with the last fiscal year,” said CAT’s director, Bill Watterson.
Watterson said the primary reason for the growth is due to the ridership agreement with the University of Virginia that allows students and faculty to ride free by showing their university ID.
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