MPO agrees to conduct traffic modeling for bypass extension, other projects
By Sean Tubbs
Wednesday, February 23, 2012
The local Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board agreed Wednesday to conduct traffic models on a series of hypothetical projects in order to determine if they should be included in the region’s long-range transportation plan, including a potential extension of the proposed Western Bypass of U.S. 29.
“We are simply starting the process of investigating concepts or ideas for eventual inclusion in the long-range transportation plan, and we’ll be going through a lengthy process of analysis,” said Stephen W. Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
By federal law, each MPO must adopt a long-range transportation plan that lists all desired projects. The next update of the plan must be approved by the middle of 2014.
“We need to go through a very rigorous process of identifying projects to be included in the [plan],” Williams said. “We need to look at projects that are going to improve our transportation system… and we ultimately need for the projects to be fiscally constrained, meaning we can’t plan for more projects then we can reasonably expect to afford in the 30-year time frame of the plan.”
Williams said he expected many of the projects would be eliminated, some would be modified and some may be added as a result of the public participation system.
Several members of the public spoke to express an opinion on the possible bypass extension.
“The current plan would bring it out where traffic traveling northbound would hit five traffic lights, one right after another,” said Forest Lakes South resident Steve James. “The extension would do away with that problem and make it a true bypass.”
“We are strongly opposed to extending the bypass since it’s such a poor, ill-founded road to begin with and extending it will only make it worse,” said George Larie, the president of the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition.
Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum said the MPO should consider asking the opinions of Greene County and Madison County officials, given that they would be affected by an extension of the bypass.
“Long-range planning requires a larger lens than this MPO possesses,” Williamson said. “Creating a longer road takes a longer vision and I ask you to use that vision.”
Other projects to be modeled include the extension of Crozet’s Main Street, as well as a new north-south road in Crozet called Eastern Avenue that would connect U.S. 250 with Route 240.
Another project that will be modeled will be the widening of Interstate 64 to six lanes from Keswick to Ivy.
“Our traffic model shows us that increased traffic is going to deteriorate the level of service on I-64 through the region over the course of the 30 years of the plan,” Williams said.
Not all of the projects involve building more roads or increasing capacity on existing ones.
“[One] project is park-and-ride lots at key locations on the U.S 29 north corridor and the U.S 250 west corridor,” Williams said. “This is for the type of park-and-ride lots that you see in urban areas that are very large and often include garages and serve as transit nodes.”
Another non-road project that will be modeled is the effect of bus rapid transit, which would now use the Western Bypass route rather than existing U.S. 29. MPO planning staff will also model the effects of more frequent service on Charlottesville Area Transit.
Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja asked if a roundabout could be modeled at key intersections such as at McIntire Road and Preston Avenue.
Williams said the traffic model was not an appropriate tool to analyze the benefits of roundabouts, but as an operational adjustment that could be made.
“There’s a specialized analysis you have to do,” Williams said.
Julia Monteith, a non-voting member who is the University of Virginia’s senior land use officer, said it was important to remember roundabouts have to be built on flat terrain.
“It’s been suggested many, many times that there’s a roundabout at Emmet Street and Ivy Road, but it just won’t fit,” Monteith said.
James Utterback, administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District and voting member of the MPO, said he supported the approach.
“Having gone through this update three and a half years ago with the MPO and not having this kind of data… it will be good information [with which] to make decisions,” Utterback said.
After the results of the modeling are presented to the MPO, the next step in the process will be a cost-benefit analysis for each project to determine which could be the most effective.
“We’re not looking at anything to start the week after next,” said Albemarle County Supervisor Duane Snow.