MPO gets preview of future traffic projections
By Sean Tubbs
Thursday, January 26, 2012
A traffic forecasting model created by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is projecting that roads in Charlottesville and Albemarle County will be more crowded over the next few decades, even as improvements such as the Western Bypass are built.
Some routes in heavy use today will face what TJPDC characterized as “gridlock," including points on U.S. 29 both north and south of the Western Bypass.
“This is a real wake-up call that if we’re serious about alleviating congestion, we’re going to keep hitting snags no matter what we do to fix the roads,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos at Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board.
The model forecasts what traffic conditions will be in 2040 and assumes all projects in the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range transportation plan will be built by then. It uses future housing construction data to calculate how traffic volumes on roadway segments will be affected by population growth and other changes in socioeconomic conditions.
The combined population of the MPO area in 2010 was 118,546. The 2040 scenario assumes a population of 188,610. In 2010, there were an estimated 495,000 vehicle trips per day. The 2040 scenario assumes that will increase to 727,487.
That last figure prompted Albemarle Supervisor Rodney Thomas to speculate that the model could be used to provide data on alternatives for an Eastern Connector. That project was put on hold in 2008 when members of a steering committee requested traffic data that was not yet available.
“I’d like to see these models used for the construction of new transportation development to concentrate on hotspots so we can make things move better,” Thomas said.
Members of the public are invited to comment on the model at a workshop that will be held at the TJPDC’s offices on Water Street this evening from 4:00 to 7:00 pm.
“This is the kick-off of a two-year dialogue on what the long-range transportation improvements need to be,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC.
Williams wants citizens to suggest potential projects to address congestion after viewing the data.
These suggestions would then be evaluated as potential additions to the MPO’s long-range transportation plan, which is required by federal law to be updated by May 2014.
“We are viewing this as a start to a two-year process to have decision-makers grapple with possible transportation solutions,” Williams said.
The workshop is part of the TJPDC’s “One Community” initiative that was funded by a $1 million grant awarded to the TJPDC by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant also paid for the TJPDC to create for the first time a single map that displays land use designations in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
“Traffic doesn’t care about political boundaries,” Williams said.
The model also shows that traffic on Interstate 64 could nearly double in the next 30 years. In 2009, VDOT observed that 47,216 vehicles travelled between exit 118A and exit 120. The model projects that will increase to 87,200 in 2040.
Also on Wednesday, the MPO voted to issue a formal request to add several programs to VDOT’s six-year improvement program.
During last year’s resurrection of the Western Bypass, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton stated he would request the Commonwealth Transportation Board approve funding for the completion of Hillsdale Drive ($10 million), the “Best Buy ramp” and the Belmont Bridge replacement ($8.4 million) in the next six years.
The formal request was applauded by Jim Utterback, administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.
“I don’t think the MPO wants to lose what was discussed last summer,” Utterback said.
The MPO also agreed to request that VDOT amend its six-year program to include the proposed Northtown Commuter Trail, a widening of Fontaine Avenue to three lanes between U.S. 29 and Maury Avenue in Charlottesville and improvements at the interchange of I-64 and U.S. 29.
“I would like to see the Northtown as the first priority,” Szakos said.
The MPO also elected Szakos to serve as its chair for 2012 and Albemarle Supervisor Duane Snow to serve as vice chair.