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December 27, 2011

After banner year, county will see less road work

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DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

After a huge year for secondary road construction and improvements in 2011, Albemarle County residents can expect to see many fewer road projects taken on by the county in coming years.

With sharp cuts in state money being sent to localities for secondary roads — Albemarle saw a more than 90 percent reduction from a $4 million-plus per year average in the early to mid-2000s to $346,000 this year — the county’s construction docket for 2012 only includes four rural road paving projects.

“Once these are done the question will be, do we continue [with] road paving projects or accrue money for higher-cost projects?” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning.

Higher priorities that also carry higher price tags, such as the extensions to Hillsdale Drive and Berkmar Drive called for in the Places29 master plan and adding sidewalks and bike lanes to Proffit Road, are currently on hold for lack of funds. In July, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said he would recommend that additional resources be allocated for some of these projects now that Albemarle has cleared the way for construction of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass.

Benish said new funding for secondary roads is still up in the air.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be any additional funding, so there’s kind of a ‘wait and see,’” Benish said.

In any case, Albemarle is unlikely to see construction on secondary roads at the pace of 2011 for a long time. This year saw the decades-in-the-making completion of the county’s segment of the Meadow Creek Parkway, the addition of a sidewalk and bike lanes to Georgetown Road, and the start of a major overhaul to Jarmans Gap Road in Crozet that had been accruing funds for 10 years.

These secondary roads are distinct from the network of larger, primary roads that the Virginia Department of Transportation manages, including roads with numbers lower than 600, such as Route 20. Residents could still see VDOT-led construction on primary roads or on smaller maintenance bridge and road projects that don’t require county input.

The recent surge of construction came as a result of a coincidental convergence of several long projects rather than from a concerted push from the county government. Benish noted that even in the construction boom of the late 1980s to mid-1990s, only about one new major project was taken on each year.

“We had the opportunity here to get all this done at one time. I can’t think of a time when in two years … we had this many [projects] close together,” Benish said.

The four unpaved road projects are scheduled to proceed in the spring. The roads are Rose Hill Church Lane, Blufton Road, Fortune Lane and Happy Creek Road, serving a combined total of 530 vehicle trips per day.

Albemarle is also accruing money for five separate bridge projects, which can be eligible for federal bridge funds. The bridges over Dry Bridge Road, Black Cat Road and Broomley Road, all of which cross the Buckingham Branch Railroad, are the next priorities and set to be put out for bids in 2013 and 2014.

The county is pursuing matching funds from the state to partially fill the void left by the slashed state secondary road funds. For 2012, Albemarle has applied for a $1 million match for sidewalk and safety improvements, but Benish said that money is not guaranteed and that matching funds are ultimately not a sustainable model.

“We rely on state funding,” Benish said. He added that matching funds have “been able to augment projects, but you can’t do [that for] 10 years.”

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