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September 24, 2010

Davies’ replacement on transportation board seeks new approaches to congestion

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, September 24, 2010

The Charlottesville region’s new representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board urged members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Wednesday to come up with fresh solutions to addressing traffic congestion. 

“We don’t have to do [road construction] the same way it’s been done for years and years,” James Rich said.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:   Download 20100922-MPO

 

20100922-Rich
James Rich

Rich is from the Plains, a small town in Fauquier County. Governor Bob McDonnell appointed him to succeed Butch Davies on the CTB, which serves as the board of directors for the Virginia Department of Transportation. This is his second stint as a CTB member, having been previously appointed by former Governor George Alllen in 1994.

Rich also served as co-chair of the Route 50 Task Force, a group charged by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors with recommending ways to preserve the scenic quality of a stretch of that highway just outside the D.C. suburbs. He said VDOT for many years had plans to build a huge cloverleaf and new highways around the 18th century villages of Middleburg, Aldie and Upperville.

“Local citizens of the area got together and raised $250,000 to get a well-respected traffic calming engineer to look at this,” Rich said. “They came up with this plan to put roundabouts at Gilbert’s Corner and we did some traffic calming in the villages which stopped [fast moving traffic]. It’s universally popular, the footprint is so much less, and saved millions and millions of dollars.”

Rich is now part of a CTB sub-committee charged with finishing a corridor-wide study of U.S. 29. The report was originally supposed to be released last year, but has been postponed because some members of the CTB felt recommendations were not effective in addressing congestion.

Rich said he felt it was important to limit the number of entrances and driveways that have direct access to U.S. 29.

Route50-roundabouts
VDOT brochure depicting location of roundabouts installed to improve traffic congestion on Route 50 in Loudoun County

“You can’t build a bypass around everything, and as soon as you build a bypass here, then further north and further south the cuts come in and you need a bypass there,” Rich said.  “It seems like we could all work together and maybe come up with something different and new in the 29 area down here and elsewhere,” Rich said.

At their meeting Wednesday, the MPO Policy Board also further discussed the Northtown trail, a project to connect the downtown mall with Hollymead Town Center for cycling commuters.

“This concept will hopefully establish a comprehensive network,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “We’re really viewing it as a north-south spine for the bike system in the region… and improve connectivity.”

The trail will be built by connecting segments such as the Meadowcreek Parkway trail, Schenck’s branch, and a trail planned to pass through the Belvedere neighborhood. To get to Hollymead, the trail would require a bridge to be built over the Rivanna River.

MPO staff are working on a document to list all of the various segments. The TJPDC will hold an open house for the public to view the plan on October 27, 2010.

Also at the meeting, the executive director of Charlottesville Area Transit reported that ridership is down in the first two months of this fiscal year.

“In the first quarter of last year we had tremendous growth and we set the bar pretty high,” said Bill Watterson. “We are still growing with our UVa ridership. That’s up more than 15% even though we’re down overall.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 01:00 - Introductions of all members of the MPO Policy Board
  • 02:40 - Comments from Jim Rich, Culpeper District represenative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board
  • 35:00 - Discussion of MPO presentation to December CTB meeting
  • 46:30 - Discussion of Sunset-Fontaine Connector modeling project
  • 1:04:45 - Discussion of Northtown Trail
  • 1:30:30 - Transit updates
  • 1:40:30 - Updates on new appointees to CTB, new TJPDC employees
  • 1:42:00 - Mac Lafferty reports on diversion of TEA funds to non-transportation related purchases

 

March 26, 2010

MPO discusses U.S. 29 study, Biscuit Run funding

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday,  March 26, 2010

At their meeting on March 24, 2010, the MPO Policy Board discussed how the proposed Berkmar Drive extension might affect traffic patterns in northern Albemarle County, the possibility of a bike commuter trail to connect Charlottesville and northern parts of the county, and the ongoing revision of a study designed to develop a master plan for all of U.S. 29 throughout Virginia.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100324-MPO-Policy-Board

MPO Director raises questions about U.S. 29 Corridor Study

A subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) is continuing work on a study of the entire U.S. 29 corridor from the North Carolina border to Gainesville. The ultimate goal of the study, which is referred to in CTB documents as a ‘blueprint,’, is to create a master plan for the road. The Parsons Transportation Group was hired by the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct the study.

20091007-BOS-Center-State
This map depicts an alternative for a new road passing through eastern Albemarle County. This was not included as part of the draft. Click through for a larger image (.PDF) (Source: VDOT)

When a draft was unveiled last fall, it included three concepts for projects that were later removed at the request of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. These were an extension of Leonard Sandridge Road using right of way purchased by VDOT for the western bypass, an elevated highway connecting U.S. 250 with U.S. 29 at Hydraulic Road, as well as a new road to connect Culpeper to I-64 along the Route 15 corridor in eastern Albemarle.The study, minus these projects, was submitted to the Commonwealth Transportation Board last fall. In December, the CTB passed a resolution which was critical of the way in which the study was developed. The subcommittee was appointed to evaluate the way in which the study was conducted.

On Wednesday, MPO executive director Stephen Williams told the MPO Policy Board that he had heard the three projects might be put back in the study, which the CTB instructed the subcommittee to revise with a target completion date of July 1.  

Jim Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, said he had not heard that information. Utterback, a member of the CTB subcommittee, said the resolution instructed VDOT to improve the way in which this and future corridor studies are conducted, but did not specifically ask for the three projects to be recommended.

“There has been no decision about that that I’m aware of,” Utterback told the MPO Policy Board.  In a follow-up e-mail sent two days after the MPO meeting, Utterback confirmed his understanding to local officials.

“These projects have not been put back in as recommendations and there is no intention to do such,” wrote Utterback.

Butch Davies, the representative of VDOT’s Culpeper District on the CTB, said in an interview that he also was unaware of any efforts to reinstitute the three projects.

“I’ve been to every meeting and played an active role with it,” Davies said. “The resolution adopted by the CTB does not include the adoption of the [projects].”

Davies said CTB members were concerned that the study became too bogged down on individual projects, and said that made it hard for any consensus to be reached.

“You can’t put in a dramatic interchange proposal without having local government vet it [first],” Davies said. He said several of the eliminated proposals went against the comprehensive plans put in place by jurisdictions, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Davies said many of the study’s recommendations involve finding a way to limit the number of intersections along the corridor in order to protect it as a transportation asset.

Charlie Rasnick, a retired VDOT engineer, is working with Parsons on the study. He said in an interview that the final report would honor the input from local elected officials.

“Once we got comments back from the public it was little of value to keep those recommendations in,” Rasnick said.

The subcommittee met earlier this month, and will next meet on April 7, 2010 in VDOT’s Warrenton office.  The CTB has requested the full report to be ready for their review by July 1.

Federal funding request for 29/H/250 improvements

Representative Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) has informed the MPO that he has made a request for $517,000 in funding  to pay for design work for additional lanes at the interchange that connects U.S. 29 with the U.S. 250 Bypass. If granted, the money would go to assist the City of Charlottesville with design work for the project, a key step towards actual construction of a long-planned second lane on the ramp that connects southbound U.S. 29 with westbound U.S. 250.

MPO Director Williams mistakenly told the MPO that the money had been appropriated, but that will not happen until Congress takes up the federal budget later this year.

“His staff told me that he views this as a very high priority project for his district, and one that will really serve the needs of his constituents all the way throughout his district down into Lynchburg and Danville,” Williams said.

Perriello made several other requests this year, including $4 million for the Battelle Corporation to develop a new interface for detecting biological threats on the battlefield. Battelle has a presence in the University of Virginia’s Research Park in northern Albemarle.  

Perriello also requested $1.5 million for the Jefferson School restoration and redevelopment project, $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity’s redevelopment of the Sunrise Trailer park, $2.2 million for Crozet’s downtown streetscape project and $720,000 for construction of a bridge to carry bikes and pedestrian over the north-south railroad line that bisects McIntire Park. Perriello also requested $1 million towards the extension of the runway at the Charlottesville-Albemarle airport.

Jessica Barba, a spokeswoman for Perriello, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that 17 of the congressman’s 48 appropriation requests in FY2010 were ultimately funded. She said decisions would be made by Congress by early May.

Federal government clears up source of Biscuit Run funding

In January, Williams sent a letter to the then-Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer requesting information about why the MPO was not consulted when Virginia acquired the Biscuit Run property as a new state park. Nearly half of the $9.8 million price was financed using federal transportation dollars.

Virginia’s new transportation secretary, Sean Connaughton, wrote Williams to say that the money did not actually come from a funding pool from which the MPO needed to be consulted. The MPO is required by law to sign off on most federal funds granted to localities and the state for transportation purposes.

“The funds allocated to the Biscuit Run project were not Transportation Enhancement Funds but Equity Bonus Funds, which are statewide discretionary funds,” wrote Sean Connaughton in a letter dated February 8, 2010. That pool of money is not subject to the MPO’s jurisdiction.

The three paragraph letter says former Governor Tim Kaine directed Virginia Department of Transportation officials to work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation on a solution that would allow Virginia to buy the land to create a new park.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow last February, Williams explained how equity bonus funds work.

“Every state on an annual basis gets an allocation of formula funds,” Williams said. This money goes to pay for maintenance of road surfaces and bridges. “At the end of the year, if a state has not used up their entire allocation of funding, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) takes back the money.”

Then each state competes for a share of the additional money.

“My understanding is that Virginia got funds [and then] decided to spend the money for Biscuit Run,” Williams said.  

The MPO voted to authorize a letter which invited the Secretary to meet with the MPO to discuss transportation projects in Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Board members express skepticism over Berkmar Drive computer simulation

The MPO’s new transportation planner has used computer models to depict how traffic patterns would be affected by the construction of new roads. One of his first tasks, according to Williams, was to model how driver behavior would change if the proposed Berkmar Drive extension and a new bridge over the South Fork Rivanna River are built.

Download Download Williams' presentation of Berkmar traffic model

However, members of the MPO Policy Board did not think his first effort used correct information, and thus generated incorrect results.

For instance, existing conditions used to set a baseline for the model described Earlysville Road as having a level of service (LOS) of D. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) describes such conditions as “approaching unstable flow.”

20100324-MPO (left to right) JAUNT Director Donna Shaunesey, Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, City Councilor Satyendra Huja, Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney Thomas

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said that did not meet with his experience.“I drive on that road frequently and I’ve never stopped that I can recall on the road,” Rooker said. He added he never stops now that there is a roundabout at the intersection of Earlysville and Dickerson Roads.

City Councilor Kristin Szakos questioned the current population figures used in one section of northern Albemarle County, saying they were too low. 

Rooker made the point that he wanted a model to serve as a tool to determine if a road such as Berkmar Drive should be built, especially if it means changing the land use of the property along the way.

Currently the land is designated in Albemarle’s rural area, but developer Wendell Wood has offered to pay for a portion of the road, but only if land he owns along the route is brought into the growth area.

“If you do nothing and you don’t expand the growth area over there, what happens with traffic?” Rooker asked. “What’s the gain for the investment, I want to find out. The cost of the bridge is probably $30 million.”

Williams said he would work with his staff to factor that into the next version of the model. But he also said that from a regional perspective, the model is designed to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29.  

"As 29 becomes more congested like we have in the no-build scenario here, traffic pushes off of 29 to surrounding roads and actually causes traffic and safety issues on Earlysville Road [and] Proffit Road,” Williams said.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center asked if the traffic model took into account that commercial land uses tend to generate large amounts of traffic.

Williams said the model factors in a 120,000 square foot “big-box” store located just north of the proposed Berkmar Bridge.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas asked if paving Rio Mils Road had been modeled to see if that might alleviate congestion. Williams said that scenario was not modeled because it not in the county’s transportation plans.

County Planner David Benish said significant terrain issues would prevent that road from being upgraded simply by adding asphalt. Rio Mills is one of only two roads in the development area that are unpaved.  

Williams said his staff will continue revising the model in response to feedback from elected officials.

Also at this meeting, the Policy Board members voted to join the new Virginia Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. However, some members did express concern that joining might take away from time spent dealing on local issues.  

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Meeting opened by Chair Satyendra Huja
  • 01:15 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman, who requested public forum on Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 03:20 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of Free Enterprise Forum, against Kleeman's request
  • 04:20 - Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker says opportunities for public comment on parkway have been numerous
  • 06:00 - MPO adopts minutes for January meeting
  • 06:30 - Discussion of proposed Northtown commuter trail
  • 10:30 - Discussion of Rep. Perriello's request for funding to pay for
  • 13:30 - Discussion of MPO's work plan and subsequent funding,
  • 14:45 - City Councilor Kristin Szakos requests work to build ridership on area transit
  • 16:45 - Rooker calls for work to make sure areas around transit stops are safe for pedestrians
  • 17:45 - Huja asks for more trails to be built linking city and county
  • 18:45 - County planner David Benish says Parks Director Dan Mahon is not working on trails much at the moment
  • 20:15 - Huja calls for more work to be done for cyclists and pedestrians, not so much on roads
  • 21:10 - Williams updates MPO on potential of joining Virginia Association of MPOs
  • 28:30 - Williams updates MPO on funding for Biscuit Run
  • 30:30 - Williams presents results of modeling study of the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive
  • 36:00 - Rooker expresses concern about LOS given for Earlysville Road
  • 39:00 - VDOT Engineer Chuck Proctor explains LOS
  • 41:00 - Williams explains how the model projects several potential scenarios
  • 45:30 - Williams describes the proposed alignments that were modeled
  • 48:30 - Szakos asks why model shows traffic as increasing on U.S. 29 if Berkmar Drive is extended
  • 55:15 - Rooker describes what he wants a model to achieve
  • 1:00:00 - UVA Senior Land Use Officer Julia Monteith asks
  • 1:14:20 - Rooker questions 2035 numbers for one section of the road
  • 1:26:30 - Monteith asks why the extension and the bridge were modeled, and what will be done with results
  • 1:27:30 - Williams describes why the Transportation Improvement Program is being adjusted for changes in McIntire Road interchange funding
  • 1:29:00 - Williams describes how the recently concluded General Assembly session affected transportation policy in Virginia
  • 1:31:00 - Williams begins discussion of U.S. 29 Corridor Study
  • 1:34:00 - Jim Utterback questions Williams' assertion that eliminated projects may be reinserted
  • 1:44:30 - JAUNT director Donna Shaunnesy gives a report on her agency
  • 1:45:30 - Nancy Ahrens of CAT gives a report on her agency
  • 1:47:00 - Update from Julia Monteith on UVA
  • 1:48:00 - Szakos discusses efforts to ban extra-long tractor trailers from U.S. highways
  • 1:49:00 - Williams talks about new coalition of federal agencies to plan for sustainability at a regional level
  • 1:50:30 - Public comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center

March 25, 2010

Planners propose commuter bike trail from Rivanna Station military base to downtown Charlottesville

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 25, 2010


Area planners are developing plans for a commuter bike trail to connect the heart of Charlottesville with northern Albemarle County, and elements of the proposed route are already under construction.

“The goal is to provide a connection for both bicyclists and pedestrians that would extend all the way from downtown out to the area where the [National Ground Intelligence Center] is,” said Stephen Williams, executive of the director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

MPO staff are currently working with city and county planners on possible alignments for the trail, which would span between 10 and 15 miles according to MPO planner Sarah Eissler.

The trail would take on many different forms along the way, according to Williams. In some sections, the route would simply consist of bike lanes on existing streets. In other areas, the trail would take the form of a path completely separated from vehicles.

20100324-Williams Steve Williams
Williams said planners will need to make sure they can deliver a continuous trail from one end to the other.

“If you have just a little gap, it cuts down on the usability of the entire thing,” Williams said.

Williams said the project is only in the preliminary planning stages, so it is too early to come up with a cost estimate.

“Once we have the plan in place, it will be built in sections as we’re able to find funding,” Williams said.  He told the MPO Policy Board Wednesday that these types of trails are typically built in segments, such as the portion currently being built in Albemarle.

“The trail is an element of the Meadowcreek Parkway project and is being built now, by the same contractor at the same time the road is being built,” said Lou Hatter, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

North of the Meadowcreek Parkway, the route might follow a new trail being built as part of the Belvedere development off of Rio Road. From there, Williams said it could run along the South Fork Rivanna River and pass underneath the existing U.S. 29 bridge.

Some sections of the trail will depend on the future of other transportation projects. For instance, Williams said the alignment could follow the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive on the Western side of U.S. Route 29. That project, which would depend on contributions from private developers, is also currently in the conceptual stage.

In the City of Charlottesville, the commuter route would likely follow a proposed extension of the Schenk’s Greenway from the McIntire Recycling Center to Preston Avenue. That project, which is being administered by Albemarle County because it owns the property on which the new segment would be built, could get under way in a couple of years. If the county does not have funding to build it, the city could step in.

“The city has offered to build that section if the county funding dries up since it will effectively serve mostly City residents,” said city trails planner Chris Gensic. 

Williams expects to be able to release a map showing a potential alignment later on this spring. After that, the item will go before the public for review, most likely before the MPO Policy Board.

January 24, 2010

MPO director questions use of transportation funds to pay for Biscuit Run

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 24, 2010

The director of the area’s regional transportation planning body wants state officials to explain why nearly half of the $9.8 million used to purchase the Biscuit Run property for a new 1,200 acre state park came from federal transportation funds.

Stephen-williams CAPTION
Stephen Williams, director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, has sent a letter expressing his concerns to Pierce Homer, the Secretary of Transportation under former Governor Tim Kaine. While Williams stated he has no opinion on whether the state should have purchased the land, he points out two-thirds of the Biscuit Run property is within the boundaries of the MPO’s jurisdiction.

Download Download William's letter to former Secretary Pierce Homer

“Federal regulations require that when the state spends federal transportation funds, they are required to get approval from the MPO policy board as well as the CTB before the money can be spent,” Williams said in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. In this case, the procedure was not followed.

The manner by which transportation projects are both planned and funded is codified by federal law as well as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the MPO and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Download MOU between MPO, VDOT and federal government

The state’s acquisition of Biscuit Run was financed in part with $4.8 million in funds classified as “transportation enhancement” (TE) funds. According to the MOU, the MPO is to be notified by the state before this money is used.

 “The MPO was never informed of this proposed use of federal transportation funds and the funds were committed and expended without the approval of the MPO Policy Board,” Williams wrote in the letter. “Due to the fact that the adopted procedures were not followed by VDOT, the public was denied its right to be involved and comment on this use of federal transportation funds.”

Ordinarily, federal, state and local authorities jointly determine what projects should receive funding, and then these projects are to be placed on a document called the constrained long-range plan (CLRP).

Locally, that plan  is known as the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM 2035) and it was updated as recently as last summer.  Since the identified projects can’t exceed available funding, officials spent last spring debating what projects could be removed from the CLRP in order to balance its budget.

Next, the MPO and VDOT officials collaborate on a document called the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) which lists all active projects that are currently receiving funding from state or federal sources. Any amendment to an item on the TIP must pass through the MPO with at least one public hearing. Only projects on the CLRP and TIP are eligible to receive federal funds.

Mike Estes is the director of the transportation enhancement program. He says he is withholding comment until VDOT can formulate an official response to William’s letter.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) is a member of the MPO Policy Board. He said the use of money comes at a time when the state has dramatically cut funding for secondary funds for projects.

"It's especially ironic in light of the fact that by purchasing [Biscuit Run], the state has purchased property [that] eliminates millions of dollars of transportation improvements that would have been done as part of the development of the property,” Rooker said.

While many of the transportation proffers for Biscuit Run were intended to mitigate future development of up to 3,100 new homes, like support for public transportation, other proffers were for off-site improvements that some observers thinks are still needed today.  Some of those funds were even going to be invested in transportation projects neighboring Charlottesville. 

Jim Tolbert, the head of Neighborhood Development Services, said that Charlottesville was counting on the developer’s contribution of $1.55 million towards sidewalk and drainage improvements along Old Lynchburg Road.

“It was roughly half the construction costs and the contribution was related to what we perceived as increased traffic coming from the Biscuit Run,” said Tolbert in an interview.  “This changes the traffic numbers, and the absence of the proffer potentially changes the budget for the project.”

Another Biscuit Run proffer included funding up to $13 million in capital improvements identified by Albemarle County.  One suggestion in the proffer agreement included support for the construction of the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector.

While embracing the idea of a new state park, Fry’s Spring neighborhood advocate Jeanne Chase said local governments and the university should not back away from their commitments to improve roads connecting the city, county, and Fontaine Research Park.

“In my personal opinion, the state park is a marvelous idea,” said Chase in an interview.  “I couple that with the fact that the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector is as important as it has ever been because of all the other development that was allowed to occur south of Azalea Park [in the county].” 

Chase said that any change in plans or schedule for the improvements to Old Lynchburg Road, where she resides in the city, would be “totally unacceptable.”

Williams has invited state transportation officials to explain the funding matter  at the MPO’s meeting this Wednesday. However, Governor Bob McDonnell’s appointee for Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, has not yet been confirmed by the General Assembly, so it is unclear if there will be a representative designated to attend.

September 30, 2009

MPO Policy Board discuss Virginia’s master road plan, Hollymead commuter trail

By Sean Tubbs & Connie Chang
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The MPO Policy Board dealt with an unusual number of items at their meeting on September 22, 2009, including an initial discussion of the U.S. 29 Corridor Study. Earlier this year, the group agreed with the recommendation by the new director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) to hold their meetings on a bi-monthly basis. Other topics included the forthcoming Virginia Surface Transportation Plan, plans for a new commuter bike trail to link Hollymead and downtown and whether legislators should join the MPO.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090923-MPO-FINAL

Locally-desired projects absent from draft Virginia Surface Transportation Plan

MPO pic


Image courtesy MPO/VDOT
Members of the MPO Policy Board were somewhat concerned their priorities might not be reflected in a new statewide transportation document. The Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation are in the process of writing a document called the Virginia Surface Transportation Plan.

This will be a master plan for the state’s primary highways, featuring projects that VDOT officials believe are necessary to meet Virginia’s road capacity in 2035. A version of the plan has been sent to MPOs across the state to get input, including the following eight projects in the MPO’s jurisdiction:


TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams noted that several projects considered by the MPO are not on Virginia’s list. Most notably, the plan includes no mention of the extension of Berkmar Drive.

“Although Berkmar Drive is not itself a part of the primary highway system, this improvement will help US 29, an important link in the primary system, to continue to provide acceptable levels of service in the future,” Williams wrote in a letter back to VDOT.  Jim Utterback, VDOT’s Culpeper District Administrator, said any comments about Berkmar were likely be ignored given that it is not a primary road.

Williams also noted that Virginia’s proposed plan includes no references to transit or pedestrian improvements.

Another project absent from the list is the creation of a second ramp near the Best Buy from U.S. 29 to the 29/250 Bypass. That project is called for in the Places29 Master Plan. The City of Charlottesville has applied for VDOT revenue sharing funds to help pay for it.

Albemarle County Supervisor and MPO Chair David Slutzky said he was concerned that VDOT wanted to convert Route 20 into a “throughway”, something he said was inconsistent with the County’s comprehensive plan. He wanted language in the response letter to make sure that any improvements to Route 20 would be done on a spot-basis as opposed to corridor-wide.

The MPO agreed to not endorse Williams’ letter, but agreed to discuss the contents of the letter via e-mail. VDOT wants feedback delivered by October 9. The MPO Technical Committee has revised a draft letter to VDOT which summarizes their concerns.

Planning under way for commuter trail to connect Hollymead to Downtown

The MPO is assisting the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County with plans for a bicycle and pedestrian trail to connect the Hollymead area with Charlottesville. A steering committee has been formed to shepherd the project from design to completion. There are three potential routes from Hollymead to the city, as well as three potential routes from there to the Downtown Mall.

TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams said the route will be designed in such a way to encourage commuting via bicycle. Preliminary design of three potential corridors is expected to be complete within six months. Slutzky encouraged them to make sure that work was complete before the City and the County begin the next budget cycle.

Virginia’s top transportation official wants state legislators to join MPO board


Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, Pierce Homer, wants the MPO Policy Board to consider adding legislators to its membership in order to better inform state politicians about the needs of local communities. The idea has already happened in the D.C. area, where both Delegate Margaret Vanderhye and state Senator Patricia Ticer serve on that region’s MPO.

In response, Williams drafted a letter to local legislators to assess their interest in joining the body.

City Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not know how having legislators on a local body would provide any value. In response, Williams said he talked to the staff at the Hampton Roads MPO, who said they benefited from having people at the table who could actually make decisions in Richmond. Huja said he could not support that.

“It would be at least three more people on the policy board who are not local,” Huja said.

Utterback said the intent of adding legislators would be to make them more aware of the constraints placed on localities by declining state transportation revenues.

“Maybe that’s the problem. They don’t realize that the transportation nightmare we’re having is their fault,” Slutzky quipped. He said Delegate Rob Bell might have changed his mind on certain issues if he routinely attended meetings.

The MPO Policy Board agreed to send a letter to area legislators asking if any would be interested in becoming more involved. Huja called the letter a “waste of time.”

“I don’t think in my mind it will change anything,” Huja said.
 
RTA to be beneficiary of leftover budget money

Williams said that the MPO had around $15,000 in unspent transit planning funds. The MPO Policy Board voted to put that money towards planning for the Regional Transit Authority, even though they are not sure of the specifics of how it will be used.

Williams reminded the MPO that the previous consultant, Frank Spielberg, had said his time to continue assisting with the implementation of the RTA would be at least $40,000. A decision on how to proceed will be made at the MPO’s next meeting in November.

OTHER NEWS:

  • VDOT has completed a new model that can help predict traffic movements in the Charlottesville area. The MPO will now be responsible for maintaining and updating the system, which will be used to guide future transportation decisions.
  • The MPO’s two subcommittees will follow the MPO Policy Board’s lead and will meet bimonthly. Additionally, the MPO Technical Committee and the Community Mobility Committee will hold joint meetings with an eye towards possibly merging
  • UVA has signed a contract with a “nationally recognized” car-sharing service, but representative Julia Monteith was not willing to share which one. The service will begin with six cars and will be open to the general public. Last year, UVA entered into an agreement with Zipcar, but the deal fell through. Monteith said the vehicles will be stored throughout the University’s Grounds.
  • The MPO has rescheduled its next meeting to Monday, November 23. Previously the meeting was scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving
  • Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) will continue to serve as chair of the MPO Policy Board for the remainder of the calendar year. The MPO will amend its bylaws to move officer elections to January.

June 30, 2009

MPO considers re-hiring consultant for further RTA studies

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At their meeting on June 24, 2009, the MPO Policy Board considered whether to spend additional funds on hiring a consultant to help with the formation of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA), viewed the results of two surveys conducted on the Charlottesville Transit Service and endorsed a letter asking for earlier service for an additional passenger train that will commence in October.

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20090630-RTA-chartThis chart from the VHB report on the RTA shows potential transit corridors for either an expanded CTS or the proposed authority. Click to enlarge. (Source: VHB)

The basic framework for the proposed RTA has been put in place through work conducted by the firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, and specifically, transportation expert Frank Spielberg. The City and County both contributed $50,000 to match a $90,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration to pay for their services. 

Their 45-page report outlines several different scenarios by which such an authority might be formed, and details different governing structures under which it might operate. Even more intricate details about how the community could proceed are featured in the 12 appendices that accompany the report.

In August 2008, the City Council and the Board of Supervisors affirmed their willingness to create the RTA during a joint work session. They set up a working group of two Councilors and two Supervisors to help guide the process. Throughout the fall of 2008, this group spent most of their time at several meetings to determine what sort of legislation should be pursued. They decided to ask the General Assembly to pass two pieces of legislation. The first would create the RTA (HB2158), and the second (HB2161) was for permission to ask citizens in a referendum if they would support a sales tax increase of up to 1 cent to fund the RTA’s operations. The General Assembly approved the first bill, but did not approve the second.

On May 14, 2009, the working group met once more to discuss whether it was worthwhile to continue pursuing the RTA’s creation without the favored method of funding. At that meeting, consensus was reached to have Barlow and her staff prepare recommendations on RTA governance issues and to draft a budget to retain a consultant to guide the RTA’s formation and system design. That consensus was ratified by the MPO later that month. Barlow contacted Spielberg to find out how much his services would cost to address some of the remaining issues, and gave four points of his action on which his firm should base a cost estimate:

  • Determine what issues must be addressed before the RTA can be formed
  • Develop alternative approaches to how to resolve those issues
  • Understanding different cost scenarios for each potential resolution
  • Develop a comparative analysis of how similar authorities in Virginia have dealt with the issues

A representative from VHB wrote back and said that the first bullet would likely consist of resolving the issues defined in the initial report’s Appendix J. While that section of the report contains an implementation schedule that largely assumed approval of a funding mechanism, many of the questions asked have yet to be answered or fully addressed, such as:

  • Do the jurisdictions want to establish the principles, or the detailed methodology, for cost sharing prior to establishment of an Authority?
  • What process should be used to develop a Memorandum of Understanding before proceeding to an Authority?
  • Does the County accept the cost of providing service as computed by CTS staff? If not, what would the County need to accept the cost computations?
  • Should the Authority strive to establish a fully independent organization or should it obtain some services from the City and County?
  • How are costs of providing service allocated to the member jurisdictions?
  • How are costs of capital equipment and facilities allocated to member jurisdictions?
  • Can jurisdictions provide in-kind services to fulfill their funding obligations?
  • How are revenues received from state and federal programs allocated?
  • How are revenues received from UVa or other sources allocated?
  • How are revenues accruing to the Authority allocated?
  • Do the jurisdictions need to resolve all issues prior to forming the Authority?
  • Is the City willing to cede this power to the Authority?
  • Is the City willing to continue to allocate a portion of these funds to County services, prior to formation of an Authority?

The letter from VHB says that the above questions, along with others in Appendix J, would be a starting point for a first meeting with Frank Spielberg. It then proposes his attendance at an additional five meetings. VHB’s initial cost estimate assumes using 14 days of Spielberg’s time for meetings as well as an additional six days for research. Spielberg bills at the rate of $215 an hour, suggesting a budget of $40,000.

20090630-RTA-funding
VHB's report contains multiple references to potential funding sources. This chart refers to revenues available to localities under HB3202 , a transportation funding bill passed in 2007. Click to enlarge. (Source: VHB)

During the MPO’s meeting, Barlow said she wanted to get input on whether this proposed estimate matched the MPO member’s expectations of what Spielberg’s future involvement should be. She also said her contact at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) said there are least two grant-funding opportunities to help pay for VHB’s additional work. One would be a “technical assistance” grant where VDRPT would pay half of the costs with the rest coming from local sources. The second would be a federal planning grant  in which 80% of funding would come from the federal government, 10% from VDRPT and a required 10% match from localities.

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he was more interested in getting additional information about how to fund the RTA, given that the state denied the sales tax referendum. Barlow referred him to Appendix H of VHB’s RTA plan, which lists several other potential funding mechanisms. She said some of these were discussed at the May 14 meeting of the RTA Working Group.

“Before moving in any direction on how to fund the RTA, the question arose as to exactly what is it going to cost us to develop this in terms of what bridges we need to cost, what we do with employees, what we do with assets,” Barlow said. Huja is also a member of the RTA working group.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro, who is not a member of the RTA working group, asked if Albemarle County would “put up any money” to purchase some of the assets currently owned by City of Charlottesville.

20090630-bus-system
Routes 5 and 7 serve Albemarle County and run twice an hour from 6:00 AM to midnight, Monday through Saturday. Route 7 is one of only two routes that run at all on Sunday. Albemarle County currently pays for the enhanced service

“I guess the question is, are we going to do a study if we don’t know what [Albemarle County’s] commitment is,” Taliaferro asked. “It perplexes me a little bit that we’re going to do a study and we really don’t know if anyone is going to join in.”

Neither Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) nor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) was present to respond. The County’s Chief Planner, David Bennish, was the County’s lone representative at this meeting and he said the purpose of the additional study by VHB would be to determine if there’s a way for the City and County to work together to plan for future transit.

CTS Director Bill Watterson said that the study is a “work in progress” to determine how hard it would be to resolve some of the remaining questions. He said the further study’s scope of work could be expanded or reduced.

Barlow suggested that the discussion should be postponed until the MPO’s July meeting. Huja concurred.

MPO VIEWS TWO PRESENTATIONS ON IMPROVING CTS

At the May 2009 meeting of the MPO Policy Board, Chair David Slutzky had mentioned that a class at Monticello High School had conducted a survey of CTS passengers. Their basic recommendations focused on adding more buses at night, adding more stops at night, and to expand bus service further in Albemarle County.

Download Download Anna MacIntosh's presentation

20090624-MPO-Survey-Chart
Source: Southeastern Institute for Research

Some of these findings were echoed in a more complex survey conducted by the Southeastern Institute of Research. Anna MacIntosh, Program Director for the firm, related the results of her group’s marketing study, which was conducted under the brand “Transportation Tomorrow.” The project was paid for in part by a grant received by the MPO to assess interest in forming a Regional Transit Authority. MacIntosh said the project was designed to increase public awareness of transportation planning. Outreach efforts included a telephone survey, an on-board passenger survey, a widely-promoted online survey as well as a paper survey handed out at places such as Charlottesville’s Senior Center.  As a result, MacIntosh claimed 4,385 citizens participated in the process.

Some of the findings from the random phone survey of 300 citizens:

  • 13% of respondents said they are involved in local transportation planning
  • 56% said they have never been involved with local transportation planning
  • 9% said they ride a bus, including the free trolley, once a week
  • 74% said they never ride a bus
  • 61% said they do not have a bus stop within a mile of their house
  • 11% said they would be likely or very likely to increase their usage in the next year
  • 70% said they are unlikely to increase their usage in the next year
  • 38% said they would use transit more often if they were closer to stops
  • 39% of Albemarle County residents surveyed would be interested in a long distance commuter bus
  • 46% said they would ride the bus more often if there were more frequent headways
  • 67% are either in favor or very much in favor of establishing a Regional Transit Authority
  • 88% said they are in support of a public vote on public funding for the RTA

MPO ADOPTS RESOLUTION CALLING FOR EARLIER AMTRAK TRAIN

Earlier this year, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved three years of funding to launch new daily Amtrak passenger service from Lynchburg to Washington. At the time, it was believed that the service’s schedule would allow for citizens to conduct a full day’s business in the nation’s capitol.

However, when the schedule was released, it depicted the train leaving Lynchburg at 7:43 a.m., with the train not arriving at Union Station until 11:20 a.m. This is because a railroad line owned by the CSX Corporation cannot accommodate the earlier schedule, which is considered a “peak-hour” slot.

At the May 2009 meeting, the MPO Policy Board directed staff to write a resolution asking the VDRPT to “closely monitor the ridership performance during the first year… to determine if it is meeting expectations.” A fear held by some in the community is that the three-year experiment will not be extended if it is not useful for business travelers. The resolution also asks for state transportation officials, including Governor Tim Kaine, “to do everything within the state of Virginia’s legal power and authority to negotiate an additional peak hour slot” for the service.
Service is expected to begin this October.

FEDERAL & STATE OFFICIALS CONFIRM UNJAM 2035 IS ‘FISCALLY CONSTRAINED’

As area planners and elected officials formulate and adopt plans for the community’s future infrastructure, one issue they face concerns how to best represent cost estimates for large capital projects. Critics of the adopted community water supply plan have repeatedly said that plan is unsound because some elements lack definite cost estimates. In June, the Free Enterprise Forum released a critique of the Albemarle County Planning Commission for using current year dollars for road improvement projects called for in Places29 rather than figures adjusted for inflation.

At the MPO’s May 2009 meeting, former City Council candidate Peter Kleeman questioned how the UNJAM 2035 long range transportation plan factors in the costs related to maintenance and upgrade associated with Interstate 64. He said that because that funding can only be used for that purpose, it artificially misleads the public into thinking that the community has more money to spend on transportation projects then it really does.

“There was something on the order of $100 million of funding in the long-range plan that are Interstate dollars that have been distributed for non-Interstate projects,” Kleeman said at the June 2009 meeting. He claimed that as a result, the UNJAM 2035 plan cannot be implemented or approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). 

Acting MPO Director Melissa Barlow said she reviewed federal regulations after receiving Kleeman’s comments, and said her interpretation was that the federal requirement for “fiscal constraint” takes all sources of funding into consideration: federal, state and local.

“There is no direction that I could find that you needed to financially constrain yourself to a particular system,” Barlow said. She then checked with VDOT and FHWA officials who agreed with her assessment. Unwanna Dabney, the FHWA representative on the MPO Policy Board, said the MPO met her agency’s basic requirements for showing fiscal constraint.

“That is the demonstration that a cumulative amount of funds are reasonably expected to be available over the 20 year timeframe [of the long range plan],” Dabney said. She said that some MPOs across the nation do break down the funding sources in their long-range plans, but that the goal of such documents is to serve as a planning document. Dabney also pointed out that much of the federal funding that comes to local communities comes through the SAFETEA-LU Act, which expires this year.

“It’s asking a bit much to constrain everything by program when we really have no idea what the next federal legislation [for transportation] is going to look like,” Dabney said.

OTHER NEWS:

This was the last meeting for Melissa Barlow, who will leave the MPO and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission for a job with the Federal Transit Administration. The TJPDC’s new Executive Director, Steven Williams, has been officially certified as the Director of the MPO

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Meeting called to order by Vice Chair Satyendra Huja
  • 01:20 – Public comment from Peter Kleeman regarding long range plan
  • 04:46 – Public comment from John Pfaltz asking that the MPO tell the County that the Woodbrook be connected to the rest of the County’s transportation network so regional transit can work
  • 06:54 – Adoption of minutes from May 2009 meeting
  • 07:26 – Acting MPO Director Melissa Barlow notes that David Benish is Supervisor David Slutzky’s alternate for the purposes of a quorum
  • 08:00 – MPO begins “fiscal constraint discussion
  • 16:30 – Presentation of Monticello High School CTS Survey
  • 26:00 – Presentation of Southeastern Institute for Research’s RTA Toolkit
  • 1:15:15 – Discussion of letter to support earlier schedule for AMTRAK Passenger Service
  • 1:18:40 – Discussion of funding of further study of RTA by Frank Spielberg of VHB
  • 1:28:45 – CHART Member Mac Lafferty reports on Bike Virginia

May 29, 2009

MPO discusses new branding for Charlottesville Transit; I-64 Interchanges at 5th Street and Shadwell to get improved ramps

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 29, 2009

At their meeting on May 27, 2009, the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was presented details on a possible new marketing strategy for the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS), heard more information about how federal stimulus money is being spent on transit systems in Virginia, and adopted the UNJAM 2035 long-range transportation plan.

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A new identity for the Charlottesville Transit Service?

Since January, Selena Barlow with the firm Transit Marketing has been working with CTS to help improve the agency’s communications and branding strategy. Part of that work has involved a week-long survey of over 3,000 bus riders conducted this spring. Here are some of the findings:

  • 96% of riders said they would recommend CTS to their friends and co-workers
  • 81% of riders said they are either “very in favor” or “somewhat in favor” of a Regional Transit Authority
  • 49% of riders have some affiliation with the University of Virginia
  • 56% of riders are under the age of 30
  • 31% of riders have access to a car and hold a driver’s license
  • 43% only ride 1 to 3 times a week and are considered “occasional” users

Download Download Selena Barlow's presentation to the MPO

Barlow said all of the above information indicates that Charlottesville is a community supportive of transit, but she said that the numbers could improve if people knew more about how to use the system.

“There’s a high level of awareness for CTS but not a lot of knowledge,” Barlow said. “People know the bus system and know a little about it, but when I started to dig a little deeper into what people knew about there were a lot of misperceptions.” In particular, she said people are not aware that transfers between routes are free.  She said many people requested GPS-locator systems in the survey. CTS began using such systems in 2008, and added a Google Transit feature in December 2008.

Cts-logo
The existing CTS logo

Barlow said much of that information could be better relayed to the public if CTS incorporated a branding strategy that included a more navigable website. She said the existing brand may be dated and somewhat ineffective.

“It doesn’t really communicate transit unless you’re seeing it on the side of a bus,” Barlow said. This would be an ideal time to consider a new brand, according to Barlow. “One of the reasons this came up early on was the possibility of transitioning to a Regional Transit Authority and introducing a new name that would be appropriate for use when that transition happens.”

One potential idea that came up in a branding workshop was to rename the service as CAT, which could represent Charlottesville Area Transit or Charlottesville Albemarle Transit. That would allow the use of a slogan such as “catch the cat.”  She suggested such a slogan could lead people to a website that was much more accessible than the CTS’ existing site, which is currently nested inside the City’s website.

“It’s not a bad website, it has a lot of information, but it’s not really that easy for a novice user to use,” Barlow said. A website dedicated to the transit service would be more user-friendly and could lead to more riders.
Proposed-cat-branding

MPO welcomes new TJPDC Executive Director

20090527-Williams
Steve Williams, the new Executive Director of the TJPDC

This MPO meeting was the first attended by Steve Williams, the new Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Williams said he has worked for various MPO’s across the country over the past 25 years. His last job was in Nashua, New Hampshire, a community he said was of similar size to the Charlottesville-Albemarle area.

Williams said he did not want to be labeled as being an expert in any one area of transportation. He told the MPO Policy Board that all modes of transportation must work in order for a metropolitan area to function.

“I think we are moving into a period in time where we at the MPO level will be challenged in ways that we have not been challenged before,” Williams said. Those challenges include finding local methods of funding transportation projects as well as connecting land use with transportation planning.

MPO holds two public hearings to adjust Transportation Improvement Program

Federal planning for improvements to transportation includes a lot of layers of paperwork in order to track the status of the hundreds of projects planned for any one given MPO area. If any new sources of money become available, the changes must be reflected in an MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Any change to the TIP must be accompanied by a public hearings.

Download Download Melissa Barlow's staff report for the I-64 TIP adjustment

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has so far resulted in more money for transportation maintenance projects in the Charlottesville MPO’s jurisdiction. That required the MPO to hold two public hearing at the May 2009 meeting.

First, the MPO officially placed $1.3 million in stimulus money from  ARRA on the TIP to indicate that the Charlottesville Transit Service will receive the funds to pay for two new buses, four new shelters, as well as spare parts and other various pieces of equipment. None of the money, which was funneled through the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) requires a local match. DRPT will open up a second round of funding from ARRA later this year.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked the DRPT’s Joe Swartz if it were possible to use stimulus money to pay for pedestrian crosswalks to improve access to bus stops. Swartz said there was no precedent, but that the community could at least apply. Bill Watterson of CTS said it was unlikely that would be the best use of stimulus funds.

CTS Director Bill Watterson said his agency has decided to apply for funding to plan for a new transit station at Barracks Road Shopping Center. The idea would be to make it easier for riders to transfer between Route 5 (serves Albemarle County via Commonwealth Avenue) and Route 7 (Fashion Square Mall to Downtown). Watterson said CTS will also seek stimulus funding to replace 6 existing buses with hybrid fuel vehicles. 

For the second public hearing, the MPO agreed to suspend its public participation requirements in order to hold an unadvertised public hearing to accept money into the TIP for interstate highway improvements. The westbound exit at the interchange of I-64 and 5th Street will be widened at a cost of $1.15 million, and an additional left-hand turn lane will be constructed at the Shadwell exit. No local match is required for these projects.  Barlow said these would not be major overhauls, but would improve the flow of traffic at the exits.

MPO Adopts UNJAM 2035

The MPO adopted the UNJAM 2035 long-range transportation plan, which has been in the works over the last year. The adoption came despite a request from City resident John Pfaltz to restore the Southern Parkway to UNJAM’s fiscally constrained long range plan. Pfaltz claimed the road would help improve response times for the fire department, and would provide an important transit connection between the Southwood mobile home park, Piedmont Virginia Community College and the stores at Mill Creek. He also said the Southern Parkway should be a higher priority and was more important to the region than developing an urban cross-section for Proffit Road. Supervisor Dennis Rooker said the Bent Creek Parkway, which will be built by the developer of the Fifth and Avon Center, provides the same connection and thus the County would be unlikely to allocate its diminishing secondary road funds to the Southern Parkway project.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Meeting begins with a public comment from City resident Peter Kleeman
  • 04:10 – Slutzky asks MPO if they will waive public participation requirements to hold unadvertised public hearing on additional stimulus money for interstate highway improvements
  • 06:30 – Melissa Barlow, Transportation Program Manager for TJPDC, introduces public hearing for TIP amendment for CTS
  • 08:00 – Public hearing comment from City resident Peter Kleeman
  • 10:40 – MPO adopts TIP amendment for CTS
  • 11:00 – Second public hearing is held for TIP amendment for additional interstate highway funds
  • 13:30 – Public hearing comment from City resident Peter Kleeman
  • 14:30 – Public hearing comment from City resident John Pfaltz
  • 16:00 – Public hearing for UNJAM 2035 adoption
  • 17:45 – Public hearing comment from City resident Peter Kleeman
  • 20:20 – Public hearing comment from City resident John Pfaltz requesting addition of Southern Parkway to UNJAM’s CLRP
  • 23:20 – Barlow and MPO responds to Kleeman’s comment
  • 28:40 – MPO discusses Pfaltz’ request to place Southern Parkway back on CLRP
  • 32:00 – Steve Williams, the new executive director of the TJPDC, is introduced and makes remarks
  • 37:00 – Approval of minutes from April meeting
  • 39:15 – Slutzky and Barlow introduce discussion of how ARRA will help localities in Virginia pay for additional transit projects
  • 40:00 – Presentation from Joe Swartz of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation
  • 46:30 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker asks Swartz if it would be possible to use stimulus money for crosswalks near bus stops
  • 50:00 – CTS Director Bill Watterson says his agency will apply for stimulus funds to pay for a new bus station at Barracks Road Shopping Center.
  • 53:00 – Watterson introduces next item – CTS marketing study discussion
  • 54:00 – Selena Barlow of Transit Marketing begins her presentation of the survey results
  • 1:08:00 – Selena Barlow switches gears to discuss the marketing plan and suggests a rebranding strategy
  • 1:28:00 – Regional Transit Authority update
  • 1:32:00 – Update on the Regional Transit Authority toolkit
  • 1:35:00 – Consideration of resolution to recognize work of Ann Whitham
  • 1:36:10 – Slutzky reports on the work of a Monticello High School class that did a project on transit in the community
  • 1:39:00 – Discussion of a grant application requested by Charlottesville Citizens for Better Rail Alternatives that Steve Williams helped fill out
  • 1:49:30 – Public comment from Jerry Diely regarding Bike Virginia 2009

April 24, 2009

MPO considers Hydraulic Road grade-separation and Leonard Sandridge Road extension during UNJAM 2035 discussion

20090422-MPO

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, April 24, 2009

At their meeting on April 22, 2009, the MPO Policy Board debated last-minute changes to the UNJAM 2035 plan, received updates from area transit agencies, and heard a report from the head of VDOT’s Culpeper District on what projects could receive funding from various stimulus initiatives being implemented by the federal government.

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COUNCILOR TALIAFERRO REQUESTS PRIORITIZING SOUTHERN PARKWAY

The MPO Policy Board is required by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to adopt a long-range transportation plan by May. The document is actually a five-year review of the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM) and the update has been overseen by Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) staff since last year. Projects in the plan have been vetted by the MPO’s two subcommittees as well as the MPO itself. However, various stakeholders in the community continue to request the reordering of some items on the fiscally constrained long-term plan (CLRP). 

20071210southernparkway_2 Source: VDOT

The CLRP represents projects that have some hope of receiving funds between now and 2035. A vision list specifies projects that are desired by the community, but funding possibilities are more remote.
Charlottesville City Councilor Julian Taliaferro began the MPO’s April 2009 discussion by saying he would like the Southern Parkway near Albemarle’s Mill Creek neighborhood to be restored as an active project on UNJAM 2035’s fiscally constrained long-range plan.

The project was moved to UNJAM’s vision list in part because the developers of the nearby Fifth and Avon Center are responsible for building a new road, to be known as the Bent Creek Parkway, to connect Fifth Street Extended and Avon Street. Taliaferro said he wanted the project made active because it would increase fire and rescue response times. He also expressed concern that construction of the Southern Parkway was constantly being pushed back.

“It’s in the graveyard for all practical purposes as far as I’m concerned,” Taliaferro said.
In order for any project to be added or moved to the CLRP, another project must be moved to the vision list. Mac Lafferty of the CHART Committee suggested moving a project to enhance Proffit Road  from the CLRP to the vision list because the two have similar cost estimates. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said the improvements to Proffit would serve the northern development area as part of the Places29 Master Plan, and would help to make the area more walkable.

Rooker said the Southern Parkway has been a dormant project because funding has never been available. He predicted that the Bent Creek Parkway would come online with five years, and that the County’s development area south of the City would see a new connector road once Biscuit Run is developed. Rooker also said that it was his understanding that the City placed a higher priority on the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector.

“There’s a huge amount of public that wants [the Fontaine-Sunset] connector built, and it’s in the City,” Rooker said. “Citizens from the City want to see that connection built to alleviate the traffic that is going through that part of the City to get to the University.” Conversely, he said that he can’t remember a citizen coming forward to advocate for the Southern Parkway. Rooker also said there are potentially future rezonings along the Fontaine-Sunset alignment, which could mean that developers might proffer some of the cost of building the road, which has a current cost estimate of $16 million.

Melissa Barlow, Transportation Director for the TJPDC, warned against changing the priorities in UNJAM so close to the federally-mandated May deadline for adoption. Unwanna Dabney with the FHWA said the MPO can choose to amend the CLRP at any point, but should go ahead and adopt the plan as currently written.  Taliaferro said he did not want to hold the process up.

MPO ADDRESSES PRIORITIZING OF GRADE-SEPARATED INTERCHANGES

Another project that continues to be debated is the grade-separated interchange long planned for the intersection of Hydraulic Road and US 29. Last year, the MPO Policy Board moved the $25 million project to the vision list for several reasons. In part, they needed to cut some projects to balance the CLRP. The two City Councilors on the MPO also requested the planned grade-separated interchange at Rio Road go first. 

However, the City Planning Commission recently recommended that Council move the Hydraulic Road grade-separated interchange from the vision plan back to the CLRP. Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said he supported the City Planning Commission’s request and encouraged the MPO Policy Board to follow suit. He said that the grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic was necessary to prevent failing levels of service on US29. 

“This project is too important to this region’s transportation network to preclude the possibility of receiving federal funds for it,” Butler said.

Rooker said he agreed with Butler, but that the political reality was that the City has not been interested in having the Hydraulic Road be in the CLRP. He said only one quarter of the intersection is in Albemarle County. Rooker suggested that the City Council take a public position on the Planning Commission’s vote at its next meeting. MPO Chairman and Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) suggested that the MPO staff should prepare for the possibility that City Council agrees with their Planning Commission’s recommendation.

LEONARD SANDRIDGE ROAD EXTENSION

Mainafterbig
This rendering of how the proposed Western Bypass would intersect with US29 was produced by the Southern Environmental Law Center. Dennis Rooker questioned whether the community should invest money in studying potential ways to extend Leonard Sandridge Road, formerly known as the North Grounds Connector

Dennis Rooker suggested that one $672,000 study could be eliminated. The draft UNJAM 2035 currently includes a feasibility study to extend Leonard Sandridge Road to Hydraulic, Georgetown or Barracks Road.  Rooker said the project would be unnecessary and would create a parallel road to US29 where one is not needed.  

 “We have a parallel road on the west side of 29 network that goes from Georgetown Road to Hydraulic Road to Berkmar Road,” Rooker said. “This is being done, I think, as a way of trying to salvage some value out of the right of way for the [western] bypass knowing that the state is unlikely to ever have $300 million that they’re going to want to put into the project,” Rooker said. He said the extension would require a very expensive interchange and would have to go over Stillhouse Mountain. Rooker suggested that the community should plan on selling the right-of-way for the bypass and putting the money into other appropriate projects.

The MPO discussed Rooker’s idea for some time, and evaluated different ways of how Leonard Sandridge Road is used by commuters looking to get to the University. Rooker prevailed, and the study was taken out of the draft CLRP.

Other news from the meeting:

  • Melissa Barlow said that the MPO is no longer expecting a 10% cut in funds from either the VDOT or the Federal Highway Administration.
  • The MPO amended the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) after an impromptu public hearing. The TIP was amended to allow for the possibility of receiving stimulus funds for maintenance projects
  • The Charlottesville Transit Service is reporting a 15% increase in ridership over last year in part because of night service on Routes 5 and 7. CTS will also have a free fare day on May 1, 2009
  • The University of Virginia is still searching for a partner to work with on a car-sharing program. Negotiations with Zipcar fell through last year
  • Construction will begin in August on a realignment of the intersection of West Main Street and Jefferson Park Avenue
  • Ann Whitham is leaving the TJPDC to take a position with the MPO in Missoula, Montana

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - MPO Chairman David Slutzky explains agenda changes for the meeting
  • 02:30 - Public hearing on Public Participation Plan (PPP) Review*
  • 04:00 – Public hearing on Draft FY10 United Planning and Work Program (UPWP)*
  • 07:40 – Public hearing on Draft United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UnJAM) 2035*
  • 08:00 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro launches discussion about restoring Southern Parkway to UNJAM 2035’s CLRP
  • 19:30 – Barlow warns against making too many last minute changes to UNJAM given it needs to be adopted by the MPO by May
  • 24:00 – Ann Whitham reviews changes requested made by the Charlottesville and Albemarle Planning Commissions
  • 25:30 – Unwanna Dabney of the FHWA lists her comments with the plan
  • 28:30 – Rooker questions whether UNJAM should encourage link rural communities via transit given the limitations on funding for transit
  • 35:30 – Rooker raises a concern over a potential study to extend Leonard Sandridge Road to Hydraulic Road
  • 44:15 – Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center makes comments about UNJAM 2035, prompting discussion about Hydraulic Road versus Rio Road for grade-separated interchange
  • 51:45 – Albemarle County Chief Planner David Benish reminds MPO that there’s a feasible design for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road
  • 54:45 – Public hearing comment from Jerry Diely officially endorsing grade-separated interchanges at both Rio and Hydraulic Roads
  • 56:00 – Rooker makes a correction to the entry for a pedestrian-bike path to be built along Earlysville Road
  • 57:00 – Slutzky introduces idea for having a public hearing for the Transportation Improvement Program for a new project
  • 1:05:50 – VDOT’s Jim Utterback discusses what projects will receive funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  followed by a discussion by the MPO Policy Board
  • 1:30:00 – CTS update from Nancy Arens
  • 1:33:00 – UTS and UVA update from Julia Monteith
  • 1:45:00 – JAUNT update from Donna Shaunessy
  • 1:51:00 – Reappointment of CHART members Bobby Burke and Mark Evans
  • 1:52:00 – Barlow introduces Steve Williams, new Executive Director of TJPDC

March 27, 2009

MPO asks transit working group to recommend next steps on RTA

Mpo-wide

At their meeting on March 25, 2009, the MPO Policy Board learned more about a proposed phone survey to determine the public’s attitudes towards transit and decided to reconvene the Regional Transit Authority working group to recommend next steps in the pursuit of a joint transit authority for Charlottesville-Albemarle.

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In their recently completed session, the General Assembly passed legislation to allow Charlottesville and Albemarle County to form a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to consolidate the governance of the existing Charlottesville Transit System (CTS). However, a second bill to allow City and County residents to vote in a referendum on a sales tax increase to pay for the RTA failed to make it out of the House Finance Committee.

That leaves a big question to be answered. Without new sources of funding, is it worth it for the two communities to form the RTA at this time? Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) had requested the MPO discuss the issue at the March meeting. He suggested reconvening the RTA working group that was created following the joint Board-Council meeting in August 2008 when both bodies decided to pursue the RTA. Before that happens, though, both the Board of Supervisors and the Councilors need to decide for sure if they want to take that step.

20090325-Slutzky
Albemarle County Supervisor and MPO Chairman David Slutzky

“The first thing that group needs to really address is the practicality of creating the [RTA] without a dedicated funding source that is better than what we currently have,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). He asked that CTS Director be present for those meetings so he could discuss the logistics of transferring CTS assets and employees to the RTA’s control. Rooker also asked for a timeline that showed all of the steps that would need to be taken to form the RTA. Slutzky said that he wanted to use the meeting to discuss the potential of seeking other funding options for the RTA.

The MPO also heard details of a telephone survey that will be conducted in April to gauge how citizens feel about transit and the possibility of increasing service through the RTA. This follows on the heels of an on-board rider survey conducted by the Charlottesville Transit Service in March. Over 3,000 passengers filled out paper questionnaires, and the data will be combined with the results of the telephone survey.

The Richmond-based Southeastern Institute of Research will be coordinating the project. Other initiatives to get public opinion include an effort to reach out to seniors,hourly U.Va employees, and the general public through an online survey. Recommendations collected from the responses will be presented at a public workshop to be held on May 2.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - MPO Meeting convenes, beginning with public comment from Jerry Deily on light rail
  • 02:45 - Public comment from Neil Williamson about the reliability of telephone surveys on transit
  • 05:30 - Public hearing on MPO’s Public Participation Plan
  • 14:00 – Public hearing on Draft FY10 United Planning and Work Program (UPWP)
  • 17:30 – Public hearing comment from Jerry Diely suggesting better way to organize studies to better achieve stimulus funding
  • 21:30 – Approval of minutes from February 2009 meeting
  • 22:30 – Discussion of Regional Transit Authority assessment toolkit
  • 32:30 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro said the survey was fairly long
  • 36:00 – Supervisor David Slutzky wonders if the phone survey will include a disclaimer that it is being funded by the MPO
  • 39:30 – JAUNT Representative wonders if cycling should be added as a mode of transportation
  • 41:00 – Comments from Southeastern Institute for Research representative Anna McIntosh
  • 44:30 – Discussion of next steps for the Regional Transit Authority
  • 54:30 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro asks MPO to include Jefferson School on its list for possible of getting Transportation Enhancement Act (TEA) funds to pay for historic preservation
  • 59:00 –MPO Program Coordinator Ann Whitham updates MPO on UNJAM 2035
  • 1:00:00 – Public comment from Jerry Deily about how to merge CTS personnel into RTA if it is formed
  • 1:01:00 – Public comment from Jeanne Chase of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association regarding any plans to assist her community with traffic problems

March 05, 2009

MPO discusses stimulus spending, CTS and Greene County land use

Mpopicture
The MPO listens attentively to three federal officials who joined the meeting via telephone

At their meeting on February 25, 2009, the MPO Policy Board was briefed on the many rules by which the economic stimulus money will be handed out, got status updates from area transit companies, and learned more about a project to link land use and transportation decisions in Greene County. 

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090225-MPO

CTS UPDATE

Nancy Arens, Grants Coordinator for the Charlottesville Transit Service reported that the agency is on target for another year of ridership increases.

“We’ve recently surpassed 1.1 million passenger boardings for the year, which is an increase of 14% year to date,” Ahrens said. “And over the past five years, we’ve had a 40% increase.” She attributes the increases to the addition of night service on Route 5, as well as expanded service on Route 7 to Fashion Square. Supervisors Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) and David Slutzky (Rio) asked for hard numbers to be reported at the next MPO number so they could report back to the rest of the Board of Supervisors.
Ahrens also reported that CTS will conduct an on-board passenger survey in mid-March.

RTA UPDATE

Chairman David Slutzky was not present at the January meeting of the MPO because he was in Richmond to lobby for the Regional Transportation Authority. While a bill to create the RTA passed, a House subcommittee killed a second bill that would have allowed Charlottesville and Albemarle County to hold a referendum on a sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation projects.  Slutzky asked the rest of the MPO Policy Board if they would be open to a discussion of what next steps can be taken.  Rooker asked for the MPO Tech Committee to weigh in first.

“I think a lot of what goes into the decision about how we move from here is based upon the components of what have to be done to create an RTA in terms of moving assets,” Rooker said. “And the decision is going to need to be made based upon the workload of the costs created by doing that.”
Slutzky said either way, he wanted the MPO Policy Board to discuss the topic next  month.

GREENE COUNTY MULTIMODAL STUDY

Though Greene County is outside the MPO Policy Board’s jurisdiction, they were still briefed about a project that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) was asked to work on. The MPO Policy Board is administered by the TJPDC, and applied for a grant from the federal and state governments to conduct a multimodal study of US 29 and US 33 through Greene County. 

The population of Greene County is expected to increased from a current estimate of 17,000 to upwards of 28,000 by 2030, according to Bill Wuensch of the Renaissance Planning Group. That Charlottesville firm won the contract from TJPDC to conduct the study. He said the goals are to improve the existing transportation system by better coordinating land use and transportation decisions.  Supervisor Slutzky suggested that Wuensch consider a park-and-ride north of US 33 to accommodate commuters whose ultimate destination are jobs in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 01:00 - Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky calls the MPO to order with Matters from the Public
  • 01:30 - Public hearing comment from Jerry Diely regarding Greene County Multimodal Study
  • 03:40 - Approval of the minutes from January 2009 meeting
  • 04:10 - Update from CTS by Nancy Arens
  • 07:30 - Update from JAUNT by Donna Shaunessy
  • 14:00 - Slutzky provides an update on the RTA discussion
  • 16:30 - Presentation of the Greene County Multimodal Transportation Corridor Study
  • 21:30 - Supervisor Dennis Rooker asks about how population is clustered in Greene County
  • 36:30 - Slutzky comments about how the study might include a park and ride north of US
  • 44:50 - Conference call to discuss economic stimulus money is introduced
  • 48:00 - Conference call begins with presentation from Unwanna Dabney of the Federal Highways Administration
  • 1:03:30 - Comments from Tony Cho of the Federal Transit Administration
  • 1:12:45 - Slutzky makes pitch for $1 million for the Regional Transit Authority
  • 1:33:30 - Other business, including decision to have Huja appoint a designated replacement for the March and April meetings as he will be absent
  • 1:34:30 - Public hearing comment from Peter Kleeman