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February 22, 2012

Western Bypass extension among conceptual ideas to be considered

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A proposal to extend the planned Western Bypass of U.S. 29 further northward is among the potential concepts that will be presented this afternoon to the Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board for possible inclusion in the region’s long-range transportation plan.


“The bypass probably shouldn’t stop where it is and it should continue and so we should have a plan,” said Supervisor Rodney Thomas, one of Albemarle County’s two representatives on the MPO.

“We must get as much as we can get out of constructing the bypass,” Thomas said in a phone interview.

Members of the MPO have been asked in recent months to suggest projects that could alleviate traffic congestion by 2040, the target year for the current update of the long-range plan.

At today’s meeting, the MPO will be asked what projects to program into traffic model software to determine if they should be further considered while the plan is developed.

“Based on the MPO policy board discussion, we will start modeling project concepts and will report the traffic benefits anticipated from each project concept at future MPO meetings,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

Several of the projects have been on transportation wish lists for many years but are not in the current long-range transportation plan because there has never been an identified source of funding.

These include widening of Proffit Road from U.S. 29 to Pritchett Lane, widening of Route 20 from U.S. 250 north to Fontana Drive, and widening U.S. 250 to six lanes at Pantops Mountain.

However, two projects that involve U.S. 29 are new.

The bypass extension, which was suggested by Thomas, would expand the proposed 6.2-mile bypass north so it would extend past Lewis and Clark Drive. No details about the project’s scope or cost are included at this time.

The other would convert existing U.S. 29 in Albemarle into a “slower moving boulevard.” The memo prepared for the MPO did not describe precisely what this would mean.

“I think this could be read as suggesting removal from the [long-range transportation plan] of the grade-separated interchange at Rio/29, and no longer considering grade-separated interchanges at other locations along the portion of 29 that would be bypassed,” Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said in email to Supervisor Duane Snow, Albemarle’s other member of the MPO policy board.

Supervisors adopted the Places29 Master Plan in February 2011 after six years of consideration with no mention of the Western Bypass. A majority of supervisors at the time agreed to delay consideration of any grade-separated interchanges until at least 2016.

Project

Potential projects under consideration for inclusion in the long-range transportation plan. Click to enlarge. (Source: TJPDC)


Rooker said MPO members have no authority to suggest new concepts without consulting the full Board of Supervisors on changing policies.

“Both of these ideas represent a dramatic shift from the County’s current strategy for the Route 29 corridor as embodied in the recently adopted Places29 master plan, and I don’t recall the Board of Supervisors discussing either one of them,” Rooker added.

Thomas disagrees that he should get permission from a majority of supervisors before giving direction to MPO staff on developing conceptual ideas.

“We on the board of the MPO are commissioned to make plans for transportation improvements, transit improvements and bike paths,” Thomas said. “If I can’t brainstorm on transportation improvements, I’m not doing my job for Albemarle County.”

He said he agreed that if the project were to be developed in the future, the county’s two representatives on the MPO would need to get a majority vote.

Williams stressed that the MPO is currently being asked to decide what concepts deserve further study. After each project is modeled, other studies such as a cost benefit analysis will be conducted for each one.

“As we go through that [long-range planning] process, I anticipate that some project concepts will be dropped, others will be modified and it is possible that project concepts will be added,” he said.

“The projects listed in the MPO policy board agenda are the starting point for that consideration, not the end point,” said Williams.

Under federal law, long-range transportation plans must be limited to projects that have a reasonable chance of being funded during the duration of the plan.

The long-range plan is expected to be adopted in 2014. Today’s meeting will be held from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the TJPDC’s offices on Water Street in downtown Charlottesville.

The U.S. Western Bypass currently under review by the Federal Highway Administration was not included in the most recent update of the plan,
which was adopted in May 2009.

One of the arguments against including the road at the time was that state and local governments would never identify funding for the project. That changed when the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated $197 million in additional funds to the project in July. Nine firms are developing design-build proposals in advance of an April bidding deadline.

 

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