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November 01, 2011

City Council candidates on city/county/UVa cooperation

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In the run up to Election Day on November 8th, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out our in-depth nonpartisan voter guide, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council.  In the weeks before the election, we will feature one to two questions a day so that citizens like you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice November 8th.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2011 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, as well as links to videos of candidate forums, copies of our 2011 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more.  All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.

CITY COUNCIL, THIRD IN A SERIES

image from cvilletomorrow.typepad.comHow should the city, county and the University of Virginia work together to enhance our community’s unique character and economic vitality?


 

Scott Bandy (I) – Challenger

That’s been a bone of contention with some folks. County and city relations, I chalk that up to the fact that the city in a way conducts itself as if though were the county, and the county conducts itself as though it were the city. Look at the urban ring there. Commercial development. People moving out to the county. The city has lost a lot of residents, people that have moved from the city into the county. You go where the jobs are. The jobs happen to be mostly in the county. Not that we don’t have them in the city, certainly we do.

And of course, the University of Virginia. Let’s drag that into this. Certainly there is room for improvement. We could talk to each more. Not that we don’t already. But as Bob Fenwick said, as a city, we have a problem of talking things to death. The people want action. Whether that’s in the next few minutes or over a period of time. Certainly I am willing to extend the hand of cordialness and consideration to the university, to the county, to work on things together.

One of the things that is close to me that also involves the county is the Sunset-Fontaine Connector. The improvements are going to be in the county, but that improvement is going to dramatically affect the city. The residents along Old Lynchburg Road, that segment of Jefferson Park Avenue. They will be impacted when that  connector is ever completed and done. Perhaps once it is done, and certainly that’s one of the things I would be most interested in the county with, and of course, the university, because we have the Fontaine Avenue Research Park over there, of accomplishing. That impact would be that Jefferson Park Avenue, [Old] Lynchburg Road, could return to the status of a slower paced neighborhood street, not the cut-through as it is and has been currently used as. Let’s move on.

 

Brandon Collins (I) – Challenger

… I think everyone knows that things between the county and the city have not been great for quite some time.  I am looking forward to at some point getting beyond the [Meadow Creek] Parkway and the water supply plan, and in to really seeing what the county and the city have in common … We can cooperate a lot on a regional transit plan, or a regional transit authority, if there’s interest in the county for that.  I think in the long term we really need to make a list of priorities for the city when it comes to the county and determine which of those are really worth taking a stand for and what is somewhat negotiable …

Continue reading "City Council candidates on city/county/UVa cooperation" »

March 25, 2010

City-County effort to form regional transit authority shelved amid Albemarle’s budget woes

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Albemarle County’s decision to build their budget on maintaining last year’s tax rate has led to the shelving of efforts to form a regional transit authority (RTA) with the City of Charlottesville. 

Supervisor Dennis Rooker delivered that assessment to a meeting held Wednesday of the work group that has been planning the authority’s formation over the past two years.

“I started out this process being a strong supporter of an RTA….It makes sense for the community to have an RTA that is jointly operated by the city and county,” said Rooker.  “Given the County’s current budget, the tax rates it has adopted, I don’t see us being a reliable partner in this in the next year or two, or three.”

20100324-RTA1

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Local officials decided in February 2008 to pursue the formation of a joint authority that would assume operation of the city’s bus system, allow the county to participate in the governance of the authority, and significantly expand public transit to more locations in Albemarle’s urban areas. 

Until this month, the major funding obstacles for the transit authority had been largely at the state level.  While legislation was approved in 2009 by the Virginia General Assembly to allow the formation of the RTA, another bill that would have allowed a voter referendum on a local sales tax increase to fund transit was unsuccessful.

“We’ve got no money in the budget for our own capital [projects].  We’ve got no operating room for additional expense right now,” said Rooker describing what has now become a local funding challenge.  “I don’t want people to waste their time doing something that…we can’t implement in the next year.”

The county’s proposed FY 2011 budget recommends paying Charlottesville about $648,000 for bus service in Albemarle, a slight decrease from the prior year.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas, another County representative on the work group, said the current economic climate was not conducive to increased funding of transit.

“We just don’t have the money to put into it right now,” said Thomas.  “Of course we would like to come up with a couple hundred thousand dollars, in a windfall of some sort that we could put into it, but right now it wouldn’t be fair for us to commit to [the City].”

Thomas was in the conservative coalition of Supervisors who voted last week to advertise a tax rate of 74.2 cents, the same rate as last year.  Rooker voted against the proposal and advocated for adding two cents to the tax rate to generate funding for capital projects.

“There is no point in forming [an RTA] if it cannot be financed,” said City Councilor Satyendra Huja after the meeting. “The services are not provided for free.  I am hoping in a few years things will be better.”

The county budget proposal is about $10 million less than the current fiscal year and includes a level of cuts to most departments and services.

In recent years, Charlottesville has seen increased ridership on its Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) system.  In FY 2009, CAT set a ridership record with over 2 million passenger boardings.

20100324-RTA-Norris
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris
However, the county’s budget woes have made the addition of new bus routes difficult even within the current transit system.

At a City Council meeting last month, Mayor Dave Norris said he was reluctant to support new bus routes in Albemarle that would serve the area around Monticello High School and the Mill Creek neighborhood if the county was not in a position to provide funding.

“If the only way that we can increase service in the county is by decreasing service in the city, I don’t see us being able to defend that publicly in the City,” Norris said.

“When we started, we thought we would obtain a legislative funding mechanism for transportation in the area and devote a significant portion of that to transit,” said Rooker. 

“Now we don’t have that and what we are looking at is the best way to use our individual resources to provide the service that people want in the community,” said Rooker.  “I am afraid that until we are in a position to increase significantly the level of current funding, it doesn’t make sense to pursue this.”

January 26, 2010

Future of transit depends on cost allocation and new sources of funding

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A plan to create a regional transit authority (RTA) will remain on hold while Charlottesville and Albemarle officials research how much money a combined transit service would cost and the share each locality would contribute. That was the general consensus of a Monday meeting between city and county staff and elected officials on whether the authority should even be formed.

“We can use this time period to continue to assess exactly what the costs would be,” said Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100125-RTA-Update

In February 2008, city and county officials agreed to pursue an RTA as a way of expanding the capacity of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS). Six months later they created the working group to work through the logistics of creating the joint authority.

Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation that gave Albemarle and Charlottesville permission to form the RTA, but a companion bill to allow for a voter referendum on a dedicated sales tax to fund its operations was defeated. Despite losing that potential source of revenue, officials opted in November 2009 to continue planning for the RTA.

20100125-RTA The RTA working group met for the first time this year
“We unanimously voted that from a standpoint of providing transit services in the community it would be better to operate with an RTA,” said Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker. “The question is whether or not we can get there from a financial standpoint.”

Under the existing system, Albemarle pays part of the cost of operating routes within its borders. Last year, the county paid $678,000 for routes that serve Pantops, Southwood Mobile Home and U.S. 29 according to CTS Director Bill Watterson.

Rooker said that system works for the county’s current needs, but it cannot afford any capital costs for the foreseeable future.

One question is how much Albemarle would have to pay the city for a share of CTS’ assets. City Councilor Satyendra Huja said he would want Charlottesville to be compensated for the transfer of buses and other equipment to the RTA. However, Mayor Norris said he didn’t want to “gouge the county” over this issue.

“As long as the transit service provided to the city is sustained or increased, I don’t see any need for us to make money off of the transfer of the assets because in the long run it’s going to save us money by not having to solely maintain those assets,” Norris said.

Rooker also said the County would have to establish how much it would contribute towards ongoing operating costs.

“If 80 percent of the service is in the city, and 20 percent is in the county, we wouldn’t [want to] pay half the operating cost,” Rooker said.

Charlottesville Public Works Director Judy Mueller said the city currently pays around $400,000 a year on human resources and other administrative services on behalf of CTS. She said Albemarle would need to pick up a share of this cost if an RTA was formed.

The group reached consensus that RTA staff would likely remain as employees of Charlottesville.

The topic of future funding was also broached at the meeting, with no firm decisions made about a direction.

Norris suggested reaching out to new Governor Bob McDonnell to find out if he might support a local funding option in the 2011 General Assembly.

 “I don’t suppose it could hurt to be proactive about that and see if they have any ideas for us,” Norris said.

Rooker said legislation to provide a local taxing option died in part because no other community championed the cause.  Richmond and Fredericksburg were both contemplating forming an RTA, but neither proceeded for various reasons.

The Williamsburg Area Transit Authority was authorized by the General Assembly in 2006 and was created from assets owned by James City County. No money exchanged hands when the authority was formed.

"We just show our investors what they're getting for their dollar and we fortunately have good ridership," said Director of Planning and Development Richard Drumwright in an interview. "But we've had real difficulty increasing the contributions from localities due to economic times."

Drumwright said his organization did not pursue a local taxation option because of what he called "the political reality" that the state legislature will not approve tax increases at this time.

The RTA working group will next meet at the end of March. In the meantime, city and county officials will work with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to establish a firm figure for how much it would cost to operate the RTA.

January 05, 2010

Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009

In my weekly appearance today on WINA AM 1070 on the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot and I will count down Charlottesville Tomorrow's top-10 growth and development stories of 2009.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download Brian Wheeler's appearance on the Coy Barefoot show

This is the fourth year we have counted down the top-10 growth and development stories in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  This wouldn’t be possible without the support of WINA for the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot for having me on the show each week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s donors, and the excellent reporting by my colleague Sean Tubbs and our interns.

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009
  1. Biscuit Run goes from Albemarle’s largest proposed development ever to a future state park after all 1,200 acres are acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia in December.
  2. Meadowcreek Parkway construction begins in Albemarle.  Local lawsuit fails to stop construction and City Council’s 3-2 vote to convey City property is upheld in court.  In December, VDOT puts City’s portion (called McIntire Road Extended) out to bid and City Council approves preliminary interchange design.
  3. City & County both hold local elections.  Democrats keep all five seats on Charlottesville City Council.  Three independent candidates in the City are unsuccessful in their bids for Council with Bob Fenwick’s campaign largely a referendum on the future of McIntire Park and dredging for water supply needs.  In Albemarle, Republican Rodney Thomas upset incumbent Chairman Democrat David Slutzky (D-Rio).  In the open seat race to fill the Samuel Miller District seat, Republican Duane Snow defeats two opponents.  Thomas and Snow join Republican Ken Boyd to form a group of three Republicans.  Both newcomers are local businessmen born and raised in Charlottesville-Albemarle. The election results will bring a new mix of experience, politics and philosophy to the board in 2010 that could mean big changes in the board's approach to budgeting, tax rates, economic development and other key issues.
  4. Fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan continues to be evaluated by local officials and public for opportunities to improve plan and lower costs.  Engineering firm Gannett Fleming is dropped and replaced with local firm Schnabel Engineering.  Three studies get underway related to dredging of South Fork, the design of the new Ragged Mountain Dam, and a “conceptual review” of the proposed pipeline connecting the two reservoirs.
  5. Places29 Master Plan is recommended for approval by Albemarle County Planning Commission on 4-2 vote.  Many business leaders continue to oppose grade-separated interchanges and other transportation proposals that cannot currently be funded by state.  Wendell Wood lobbies for growth area expansion on to undeveloped land he owns in Northern Albemarle.
  6. Peter van der Linde opens recycling facility at Zion Crossroads.  Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (run jointly by Charlottesville-Albemarle) files lawsuit against van der Linde accusing him of fraud and non-payment of as much as $1 million in tipping fees to the RSWA facility.  RSWA decides to seek bids to privatize the Ivy Material Utilization Center and McIntire recycling facilities.
  7. Charlottesville Downtown Mall renovations completed under budget and mostly on schedule (fountains needed more work after deadline).
  8. Major new housing and retail developments continue to be held up by market forces, economic downturn, and lack of adequate public infrastructure (e.g. sewer capacity).
  9. Virginia General Assembly blocks local sales tax voter referendum, requested by both Charlottesville & Albemarle as part of search for new transportation funding resources, specifically to support formation of a Regional Transit Authority.
  10. First annual CvillePieFest is held in Crozet.  Organized on Twitter, it was simply amazing.
    (Full disclosure: Coy Barefoot & Brian Wheeler really want to continue as permanent judges for this event, something that should become the Virginia Pie Festival! Keep track of all things local pie here.)
Brian’s predictions for the top stories of 2010
  1. Key decisions will be made about next steps for the fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan related to Ragged Mountain dam design and dredging.
  2. Crozet Master Plan review is completed.  What is new target for Crozet’s build out population and will the growth area be expanded at Yancey Mills for a new business park?
  3. New growth area land in U.S. Route 29 corridor will be considered to replace the 3.5% of growth area lost to state’s acquisition in late 2009 of Biscuit Run for a new state park.
  4. Village of Rivanna and Places29 Master Plans will be reviewed by Board of Supervisors.  Will Places29 be approved and, if so, with what transportation vision for the future of U.S. 29 North?
  5. Local government continues to struggle with the continuing impact of state and local budget shortfalls in very difficult economy.  Officials will consider new proposals to diversify Albemarle’s tax base (increased commercial/industrial) and proposals to reduce recently adjusted cash proffer expectations in an effort to encourage new home construction.
  6. City-County-UVA cooperation will get more attention by the public and local officials (revenue sharing, water, solid waste, schools, public safety).  Will it get better or worse?
  7. Master Planning of McIntire Park will get underway and future uses, like a botanical garden, will be assessed. 
  8. The military facilities at Rivanna Station around the National Ground Intelligence Center will continue their expansion and bring new residents to the community working for the Defense Intelligence Agency and military sub-contractors.
  9. Charlottesville and Albemarle both face challenges from their residents concerned about urban infill development, the type of growth encouraged by each locality’s comprehensive plans, but often opposed in the face of neighborhood concerns about increased traffic, public safety, and noise.  How will this impact redevelopment of West Main and old Martha Jefferson Hospital?
  10. Landmark Hotel construction on Downtown Mall resumes, or not…

October 16, 2009

Senior Statesmen of Virginia hold forum for all six Albemarle Supervisor candidates

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 16, 2009

All six candidates for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors participated in a forum sponsored by the non-partisan Senior Statesmen of Virginia on October 15, 2009. Samuel Miller District candidates Madison Cummings (D), John Lowry (I) and Duane Snow (R) sat alongside Rio District candidates David Slutzky (D) and Rodney Thomas (R). Jack Jouett District incumbent Dennis Rooker (I) was also on the panel even though he faces no opposition.

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After each candidate gave a five-minute opening statement, they answered questions from the audience about land use taxation, the role of chain stores in Albemarle’s economic plan and cooperation with the City of Charlottesville. Each candidate was also given a chance to make a closing “wrap-up” statement.

20091014-SSV
The opening statements offered a chance for each candidate to explain why he is running. Rooker pointed to many achievements the Board of Supervisors has made during the past eight years, including maintaining a AAA bond rating.  Thomas said his time as Chairman of the Albemarle County Planning Commission prepared him to serve as a Supervisor. Slutzky said he was a hard worker who would put in the time to continue to serve Albemarle County. Snow said he was qualified for the job by his lifelong residency as well as his experience as a business owner. Lowry called for the creation of an economic development department. Cummings pointed to his service on the School Board as a reason why he should be elected.

The following are highlighted responses from the five questions asked by the audience.

Question 1:  What action would you take to enable restaurant chains such as the Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel, as well as big box stores such as the Home Depot, to open in Albemarle County?

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “We make it almost impossible for them to come here because we demand so much from them…”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “We do not choose which businesses want to come here. We provide adequate land uses for businesses to locate here. We have today about 3 million square feet of commercial space that is approved in the County but has not been built out.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “The [County’s] maximum footprint is 65,000 square feet… I think that probably should be doctored a little bit to let the bigger stores come in…”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “The Department of Conservation and Recreation issues some draft regulations that were ruthless in protecting the bay, but they also were going to have a profound chilling effect on the business climate in the Commonwealth in Virginia…I came up with an alternative proposal… They’ll be finalized and signed by the Governor later this year.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “Businesses have to want to come here. Is the County perceived as being friendly to business? We need to have an economic development office to invite businesses here.”

Madison Cummings: (D-Samuel Miller): “If we’re not welcoming to businesses… we need to be working on that… I do hear occasionally that there are County employees who are less welcoming and sometimes rude. I would hope that we would work on that.”

Question 2: How would you join with Charlottesville government to help in making both areas save taxpayer dollars?

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio):”I would plan a meeting to do something with the revenue sharing… Right now we have no say over that money that is spent inside of the City of Charlottesville. $18.8 million is what the check is going to be for in January.”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “City and County cooperate on many, many things… We can always do more.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “The City runs the bus system… the bus system is very downtown-centric yet 80% of our commercial activity is along [U.S. 29]. I would like to see us enter into a collaboration with the City to form a Regional Transit Authority.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “We have to be careful that in the effort to collaborate, [that] we don’t get carried away with spending…”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “We have a City operating independently inside the County and logically the two really ought to be together completely so we wouldn’t have an overlap in the school system and police, fire and rescue…”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “I was on the School Board in the late 90’s and I approached the superintendent and [asked] how we could cut this dog.gone transportation budget? I tried to work and see if maybe we could meld at least in the urban area the two transportation systems for the schools… One opportunity maybe we could consider again.”

Question 3: The Daily Progress recently reported that housing prices have dropped by 20%. How should the Board respond to lower real estate assessments?

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “There’s nothing we can do about raising those property values back up until the economy improves. But in the meantime you can’t tell someone that is already struggling to make ends meet that we have to raise taxes… Cut the waste in the County and then from there we can make decisions. Do you realize the County has never had a zero-based budget?”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “The County actually did try zero-based budgeting back in 1990 and then they went away from it… What we do today is what I would call a modified zero-based budget. We do look at every line item in the budget to determine whether or not it’s something we need to fund… Actual full-fledged zero-based budgeting is an incredibly time-demanding… At the end of the day it was abandoned because it took up a lot of time that could have been spent elsewhere… Before we raise rates, we always need to look for efficiencies and make sure we are getting the most out of the revenues we currently have.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “Relying on property taxes alone is unsustainable.. You could have $20 million from commercial taxes over time that could be a replacement…It’s not a crisis of wasteful spending. We have a crisis of not having enough revenues to provide the services we like.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “You’ve got to minimize your expenses and you’ve got to increase your revenues… I voted against the turf fields that were going to be put in the schools…I find it frustrating in a campaign process where candidates sit there and say they’re going to cut the waste… if we’re interested in zero-based budgeting, that must mean that these candidates have already looked at the budget and have at least some suggestions of what waste they want to see cut, and I haven’t been hearing that so far.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “There’s a lot of ways that you can cut. You want to cut the waste out of the budget… I think it’s going to be obvious as to where we need to make the cuts when we get into the budget, and cut the wasteful spending.”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “We perhaps are at zero-based budgeting now whether we want to be or not. We’re at least at baseline budgeting because of the number of folks [in County government] that are frozen.”

Question 4: “What negative results would occur if land use taxation were to be eliminated?”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett):”There probably are some properties out there that have been getting a benefit for that tax break that might not qualify, and we want to make certain that the program is only going to those who meet the definition... We decided to go with revalidation to see where that would lead us.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “I can’t imagine our board would eliminate the program. I certainly wouldn’t support it… It provides immense value in that it does create an incentive for rural lands to be protected for a period of time…”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “I don’t think it’s a matter of taxes. It’s a matter of personal property rights… The people that are living in the County that are getting a tax break on their property, most of them don’t use the services that those in the urban ring use.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “Farmers would not be able to afford to run their farms if the program was done away with… I don’t know of any land use participant that is a land speculator… I can’t imagine anyone in the County doing that.”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller):”It’s a sacred duty to maintain the rural areas of Albemarle County and other areas. Land use taxation relief helps to do that.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “The agriculture industry would completely go away. The timber industry would disappear, too.”

Question 5: What are your views on the bypass around Charlottesville?

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “In the 70’s, they were talking about the western bypass. We talked about it and I said, why wouldn’t they talk about going down U.S. 15? What doesn’t make sense about that? That was before Historic Green Springs set itself as a historical area, so that makes it more difficult now… The western bypass, the topography there is not attractive. It’s terribly expensive…I think we need to drive a stake through its heart permanently.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller):”I’d like to speak on the seriousness ofn the ability to fund road improvements in our area. We have a problem of flow right now. We have a state that is not sending money to our community… It’s not a lack of planning that we’re missing. We’re missing a lack of funding… It’s not the bypass that’s so important. We need lanes connecting Hydraulic to the traditional 29 bypass. We need the rural road program to be funded.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “They tell us that roughly 10% of the traffic we have in this area goes straight through the 29 area and out of the County. They say that in building a bypass we’re building it mainly for that 10%. What we really need is to make it easier for the 90% that are moving around inside of the city to get around more effectively.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I really like the [Western] bypass… I thought it was a very good internal road that we needed… If the bypass had been put in, it would have eliminated a high percentage of the cars blocking or backing up at the 250 bypass interchange…”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “There is no funding for transportation in the state… Somebody needs to solve the transportation funding problem… Hillsdale needs to be built… We know we need to add a lane on 29 from Hydraulic Road south to the 250 Bypass along with an extra ramp at Best Buy… we don’t have any money for it.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “I strongly agree with my opponent Rodney that we cannot let 29 become an expressway, and I think that was one of the original reasons why the community looked at the so-called Western Bypass… If the Board is going to be deliver anything out of Places29, it is that parallel road that is Berkmar that’s been described already.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Introduction from David Perkins of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia
  • 03:30 – Opening statement from Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett)
  • 09:00 - Opening statement from Rodney Thomas (R-Rio)
  • 10:30 - Opening statement from David Slutzky (D-Rio)
  • 16:00 - Opening statement from Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller)
  • 20:15 - Opening statement from John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller)
  • 25:45 – Opening statement from Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller)
  • 31:20 – Question #1
  • 44:00 – Question #2
  • 56:30 - Question #3
  • 1:10:30 - Question #4
  • 1:26:00 - Question #5
  • 1:39:00 - Wrap-up comment from Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller):
  • 1:42:00 - Wrap-up comment from John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller)
  • 1:44:40 - Wrap-up comment from Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller)
  • 1:47:15 - Wrap-up comment from Rodney Thomas (R-Rio)
  • 1:50:00 - Wrap-up comment from Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett)
  • 1:53:30 - Wrap-up comment from David Slutzky (D-Rio)

October 05, 2009

Samuel Miller District Candidates Forum

20090930-CT-Fef-Crowd-Shot

On September 30, 2009, the three candidates vying for the Samuel Miller District of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors met at a Candidates Forum sponsored by Charlottesville Tomorrow and the Free Enterprise Forum. Democrat Madison Cummings, Independent John Lowry and Republican Duane Snow answered nine questions on land use, transportation, and growth in the County. The candidates also answered several questions submitted by members of the audience. The event, held at Murray Elementary School in Ivy, was co-moderated by Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum and Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090930-CT-FEF-Samuel-Miller-Forum

WATCH THE VIDEO:

20090930-Samuel-Miller from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

Question 1:
According to the Albemarle County Strategic Plan, “the County desires to maintain a strong, sustainable economy, increase business activity in the urban cores of development areas, and ensure all citizens of the County are able to participate fully in a vibrant economy.” How would you assess Albemarle’s economic condition today? As a Supervisor, what specific strategies would you pursue
to generate new jobs and economic vitality? What is your vision for the county addressing economic development opportunities?

Question 2:
How would you assess Albemarle County’s growth management strategies? What other steps would you advocate be taken to discourage development in the rural countryside and encourage development in the growth areas? Are the existing incentives adequate?

Question 3:
Should we start the planning process over on the fifty-year community water supply plan? Why or why not?

Question 4:
Albemarle County has expectations for the development community to build or pay for affordable living choices in new developments. Do you agree with that approach? How do you believe the County should address the need for not just affordable housing, but also workforce housing?

Question 5:
The Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission have both held work sessions on the transportation elements of the Places29 Master Plan. If there is an opportunity to receive a significant developer proffer related to Berkmar Drive Extended in exchange for an expansion of the County’s designated growth area, should that be pursued as part of the Places29 Master Plan?

Question 6:
Do you support the proposed grade separated interchanges on Route 29 as major components of the Places29 master plan? Why or why not?

Question 7:
Do you agree with continuation of the current land use tax program in the rural areas and with the revalidation process that was recently initiated by the BOS? Why or why not?

Question 8:
How do we ensure the community infrastructure—roads, sidewalks, fire/rescue facilities, libraries, etc.—is in place to support our current population, new development and redevelopment in our designated growth areas? To what degree should this infrastructure be funded by the real estate property tax, a gas tax, developer proffers, or new service districts?

Question 9:
An emotional issue that has divided the community is before the Board of Supervisors. How should an elected official balance citizen input, staff input, and the goal of making decisions that are in the best interests of the community as a whole?

Audience question 1:

What is your position on public transportation in Albemarle County, including a Regional Transit Authority with Charlottesville? How would you fund it? Would you support rapid public transit such as light rail or bus rapid transit?

Audience question 2:
A new economic development office and a Regional Transit Authority are two new government agencies I've heard proposed tonight. Where will you cut County government to fund these agencies, or would you propose new taxes during an economic downturn?

Audience question 3:
Would you revise the current barking dog ordinance to provide more restrictions in the entire County, and or the barking of multiple dogs?

Audience question 4:
There has been a significant retail sales tax shift out of Albemarle County. Do you believe the loss of sales tax revenue is a serious issue? How do you view neighboring counties' commercial development activities?

TIMELINE FOR VIDEO AND PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Introduction from Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow
  • 01:45 - Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum reads the rules  
  • 03:00 - Question 1
  • 10:20 - Question 2
  • 18:45 - Question 3
  • 25:00 - Question 4
  • 32:30 - Question 5
  • 40:00 - Question 6
  • 48:00 - Question 7
  • 52:30 - Question 8
  • 1:00:00 - Question 9
  • 1:09:00 - Audience question #1
  • 1:16:30 - Audience question #2      
  • 1:22:45 - Audience question #3 
  • 1:28:15 - Audience question #4    
  • 1:35:00 - Madison Cummings' closing statement
  • 1:38:15 - John Lowry's closing statement
  • 1:40:35 - Duane Snow's closing statement

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.

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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.

September 01, 2009

Lowry criticizes candidates who signed consensus statement on water plan

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
September 1, 2009

John Lowry says he is the only candidate in the race for the Samuel Miller District seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors that is taking a stand on important issues.  Lowry is running as an Independent to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sally Thomas.  Also on the ballot in the November election are Republican Duane Snow and Democrat Madison Cummings.

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20090831-Lowry1 At a press conference Monday, adjacent to the McIntire Road Recycling Center, Lowry said he was the first to have a position in support of the community water supply plan.

“While my opponents in this race take cover behind consensus statements, I believe that voters want to know where candidates stand on important issues,” said Lowry.

In August, Dr. Liz Palmer, a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority Board of Directors, announced that Snow and Cummings had both signed a consensus statement indicating their support for moving forward with the fifty-year water supply plan approved in 2006.  

“I didn’t sign the consensus agreement because I had already made my statement and I think that needed some recognition,” said Lowry.  “I had the leadership to have my own point of view.”

Cummings told Charlottesville Tomorrow in an interview that Lowry had previously been in favor of signing the statement.  

“The three of us had agreed in July that we should sign the statement and take that off the playing field as a bone of contention,” said Cummings.  “Maybe he is trying to find some degrees of separation from the rest of us.”

“He said he probably would sign the statement but that he needed to talk to his campaign manager first,” Palmer told Charlottesville Tomorrow.  “Since he had already said he agreed with the [water supply] plan, we didn’t think there was any reason he would not sign it.”

Tom McCrystal, Lowry’s senior strategist, said his candidate did consider signing the statement, however Lowry determined it didn’t add anything to his previous position.

“He is willing to look at additional measures to protect the water supply,” said McCrystal who cited Lowry’s support for maintenance dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. “John feels very strongly that it is important to take care of what we have.”

The statement signed by Snow and Cummings indicated they were “open to the possibility of selective dredging” separate from the fifty-year plan.  Snow told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the important issue for the community to address is how to move forward with a water supply plan.  

“Bottom line to me is that we need to move forward as quickly as possible and quit spending money on studies,” said Snow.  “I make my decision based on what I think is right, not what everyone else is doing.”

Lowry used his press conference to outline positions on other matters related to the County’s environmental resources.  He emphasized a goal of finding a balance between the use of natural resources, stewardship of the environment, and economic development.

Lowry pledged to protect the environment by supporting three specific initiatives: improved storm water regulations; support for regional public transit initiatives; and more convenient recycling options.  

During his remarks, several cars pulled into the recycling center and turned around after realizing that the center was closed on Mondays.  

“It is closed for lack of funding,” said Lowry.  “We need to be open for business when people are ready to recycle.”

Lowry also said he would also support and improve Albemarle’s land use taxation program and conservation easements as tools for preserving the character of rural Albemarle.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

01:00 – John Lowry begins his statement about the environment
03:43 – Lowry discusses water resources
04:50 – Lowry discusses regional public transit
05:53 – Lowry discusses convenient recycling
09:44 – Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow asks about his statement that his opponents are "taking cover behind consensus statements"
09:58 – Lowry responds
10:44 – Wheeler asks if Lowry agrees with the principles of the consensus statement on the water supply plan
10:58 – Lowry responds
11:28 – Wheeler asks what the environmental pros and cons are of the community water supply plan
11:32 – Lowry responds
12:10 – Wheeler asks whether Lowry supports the County’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050
12:25 – Lowry responds
13:00 – Wheeler asks about better access to recycling receptacles
13:20 – Lowry responds
13:43 – Wheeler asks whether the County should participate in the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority
13:53 – Lowry responds
14:21 – Wheeler asks whether there should be a limit to how much the County should pay to subsidize recycling
14:30 – Lowry responds

July 25, 2009

MPO gets update on signal timing, VDOT cameras, record bus ridership, and AMTRAK

20090722-MPO
By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, July 25, 2009

On July 22, 2009, the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Charlottesville-Albemarle met and received an update on local Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).  These systems include synchronized traffic signals, traffic cameras, and message boards. 

The MPO also received updates on bus ridership, the launch date of the new daily AMTRAK passenger train service from Charlottesville to Washington, DC, and next steps for the formation of a Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority.

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INTELLIGENT TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

Dean Gustafson, VDOT's Northwest Regional Operations Director, gave the MPO an update on recent ITS initiatives.

  • 20090722-VDOT-cameras VDOT has sixteen cameras monitoring traffic in the area that cost $900,000. Eight on I-64, seven on Route 29, one on Route 250. Many of the cameras can be viewed by the public on the Internet.  VDOT has been surprised by the variety of organizations making use of the cameras, including the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Traffic signal timing optimization on Route 29 has saved average of 1 minute on travel from Hydraulic Rd to Airport Rd. Travel time is down on that stretch from 10.2 minutes to 9.2 minutes. The average stops per vehicle in that area is down from 3.1 to 2.4.
  • VDOT expects to complete coordination with the City of Charlottesville's traffic signal timing system on Route 29 (signals south of and not including Hydraulic Road) later this summer.
  • The airport runway lights used for foggy conditions on Interstate 64 on Afton Mountain are the only ones used on roads in U.S. They are being replaced with LED versions this fall.

TRANSIT UPDATE

Bill Watterson, Director of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS), told the MPO that CTS surpassed two million passenger boardings for FY2009 which ended June 30th.  The 2,012,462 is the greatest number of passenger boardings CTS has ever had in one year.  Ridership by students and staff at the University of Virginia and the UVA Medical center were a significant contributor to the increased usage of public bus service in this first year of the UVA Photo ID Program.  UVA students and staff can ride for free on CTS. 

Rebecca White, UVA's Director of Parking and Transportation said increased ridership by UVA on CTS continued to be strong this summer even after the departure of the students from the community.  White told Charlottesville Tomorrow that UVA had 20,000 "non-free Trolley" boardings on CTS in June 2009 alone.  Watterson said UVA ridership on CTS buses in FY2009 was up 41% over 2008.  Total UVA passenger boardings were almost 300,000 last year, an average of 25,000 per month.

AMTRAK PASSENGER RAIL TO DC

As reported by Charlottesville Tomorrow in April 2009, AMTRAK's new passenger train from Lynchburg to Washington, DC will launch this fall, but not on the daily schedule desired by business and political leaders in Charlottesville.  The train is now scheduled to leave Lynchburg at 7:43 AM, come through Charlottesville around 8:45 AM, and arrive in Union Station by 11:20 AM, giving only about a five hour window of time before the returning south-bound train leaves the station.

The MPO discussed a resolution adopted at their May meeting expressing the MPO's belief that the 11:20 AM arrival time in Washington "will not be useful for the business traveler."  The resolution calls on the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to negotiate an improved schedule with freight operators in the corridor.

The resolution states in part: "[W]ith the approved schedule, the Lynchburg-DC train will add to the rail options available for recreational travelers and others making extended stays, but will perpetuate the existing situation wherein passenger rail is of limited utility to the business, professional, academic, government and defense-related sectors of the Charlottesville and Central Virginia region."

Stephen Williams, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (the TJPDC is staff to the MPO), announced that the grand opening of the new AMTRAK route would be on September 29, 2009

REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY

The MPO also agreed to gather more information on a consulting project related to the formation of a new Regional Transit Authority.  The firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), who developed the original plans for the transit authority, will be asked to submit a more detailed proposal and budget for work to help facilitate the implementation plans.  The MPO will seek grant funds for the consulting project from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to help with the planning effort. The final details of the consulting project will be brought back to the MPO at a meeting later this year for final approval.   

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