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July 18, 2012

State transportation board transfers funds for Hillsdale Drive

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

RICHMOND — The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved the transfer of $9.7 million in additional funds for Hillsdale Drive Extended

That fully funds the current $13.8 million cost estimate for the Charlottesville road and completes a series of promises made by top Virginia officials in exchange for local support of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29
 
20110615-connaughton
Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton (file photo)
“We’ve made commitments to the community that we would fund certain projects and now we’re fulfilling them,” said Sean Connaughton, Virginia’s secretary of transportation. 
 
At their June meeting, the CTB fully funded the $14.5 replacement of the Belmont Bridge as well as a $7.7 million project to add a second lane on the west-bound on-ramp at the interchange of U.S. 29/250 and Emmet Street
 
The CTB also awarded in June a $136 million design-build contract to a team consisting of Skanska-USA and Branch Highways to build the 6.2-mile bypass. 
Hillsdale Drive Extended was supposed to have been funded at that time, but VDOT officials said a mistake was made with the paperwork. 
 
“We had indicated we would bring it back to the board fully funded through a transfer process,” said Reta Busher, VDOT’s chief of programming and planning. 
 
The funding was reallocated from four projects elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Lynchburg District donated $1.25 million, the Salem District donated $2 million and rest came from two projects in the Staunton District. 
 

Continue reading "State transportation board transfers funds for Hillsdale Drive" »

Albrecht Place recommended for approval behind Shoppers World

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A new commercial development along U.S. 29 received a favorable recommendation from the Albemarle Planning Commission at its meeting Tuesday.

Albrecht Place will consist of a 48,000-square-foot commercial building and 183-space parking lot on about 3.4 currently wooded acres behind the Shoppers World shopping center and next to the Berkley neighborhood.

20120717-AlbrechtPlaceThe property owner, Sue Albrecht, will be moving her Design Environs company, a commercial interiors firm, to a portion of the new development. Another tenant may include a local gym.

“I am very excited that we have gotten approval from the Planning Commission,” Albrecht said after the unanimous vote.

In its deliberations, the commission overcame concerns about potential traffic impacts that had led county staff to recommend against the project until more information could be considered.

VDOT evaluated the proposal and determined it did not meet the threshold of necessitating a full traffic impact study, but that some additional analysis by the developer would be beneficial. Access to the site would be via Shoppers World, Berkmar Drive, Commonwealth Drive and 29.

“The main issue of concern with this particular rezoning request has to do with transportation,” said Albemarle County senior planner Claudette Grant. “Submission of the traffic impact analysis will provide necessary information that will help us determine what impacts, if any, this development could have on the surrounding roads.”

Woody Parrish, an architect planning the development, said he had shared his own traffic consultant’s research with staff.

“The staff report does acknowledge that this is expected to have fairly light traffic impacts,” Parrish said. “We have had a traffic consultant look at this and they have come up with estimated trip generations and that number turns out to be less than 1 percent of the traffic than is currently using this section of U.S. 29.”

“We are having a hard time spending another $15,000 [on a traffic study] to quantify information that I think we understand well enough to affirm an existing zoning designation for an infill parcel in the development area that’s fully consistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan,” Parrish said.

That statement struck a chord with the commission.

“Would your traffic consultant be willing to write a letter?” asked commissioner Mac Lafferty. “This seems to me to be the major hold up.”

Parrish said such a statement could be produced, and that satisfied the commission’s desire for more transportation data.

Continue reading "Albrecht Place recommended for approval behind Shoppers World" »

July 14, 2012

Air station at AHS monitors ozone levels in Albemarle County

DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, July 14, 2012

On the grounds of Albemarle High School, a small metal structure sits sniffing the air for pollutants and recording what it finds. Installed in 2008, the Ambient Air Monitoring System has been measuring the amount of ozone and PM2.5, the term for fine solid and liquid particulates 2.5 micrometers and smaller, in Albemarle County.

20120703-MaxOzone-graph2008-2012YTD
Caption here

The levels of the pollutants are then sent to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to determine whether or not the air in Albemarle meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal standards.

Areas that fail to meet the standards are deemed “nonattainment” by the EPA and are required to then formulate a long-term strategy for reducing the amount of pollutants.

However, according to Carolyn Stevens, a DEQ environmental specialist, man-made and industrial pollutants are only one part of the pollution that contributes to nonattainment.

“People instantly think to curtail industry, and there are things we could do for industry, but there are other sources,” said Stevens, referring to strategies employed in nonattainment areas. “There are also environmental and meteorological issues.”

Ozone is a secondary pollutant, which means that it is created when pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are produced and met with direct sunlight and high temperatures.

“[Nonattainment] is dependent on things we have no control over,” said Stephen Williams, director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “The hotter, more humid it is, the more likely you are to have a nonattainment event.”

Continue reading "Air station at AHS monitors ozone levels in Albemarle County" »

July 12, 2012

Bypass opponents launch campaign to promote alternatives

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, July 12, 2012

Two organizations opposed to the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 in Albemarle County have produced a three-minute video to encourage citizens to consider alternatives to the 6.2-mile, four-lane highway.

“We put this video together to highlight better approaches to solving traffic problems on U.S. 29,” said Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center on Thursday. “The community itself has developed an approach that is far less damaging than the bypass; it’s more cost-effective, and it provides benefits that the bypass simply does not.”
 
20120712-hydraulic-spui
This conceptual image from the video depicts how a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 might look like. Click here to see the video. Credit: Southern Environmental Law Center
In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded a $136 million contract to design and build the bypass to a team consisting of Skanska-USA and Branch Highways. 
 
However, the Skanska-Branch team cannot begin work on the final design until after the Virginia Department of Transportation completes an environmental assessment. The last study, known as an environmental impact study, was concluded in 2003. 
 
The Federal Highway Administration is expected to determine in the fall if further scrutiny is required. The environmental groups hope the FHWA will make a decision that stops the bypass once again.
 
“If changes have been made to the proposed project — or new information has become available — since the original EIS that would lead to significant environmental impacts, a supplemental EIS may be warranted,” said Doug Hecox, a FHWA spokesman.
 
Butler said the community’s development of the Places29 Master Plan is one of those changed circumstances. In addition to other transportation improvements, the plan approved in 2011 eventually calls for grade-separated interchanges at Hydraulic Road and Rio Road, the extensions of Hillsdale Drive and Berkmar Drive and an additional off-ramp at the U.S. 29/250 Interchange. 
 

Continue reading "Bypass opponents launch campaign to promote alternatives" »

July 10, 2012

Seminole property owners: Hillsdale Drive threatened by Stonefield stormwater

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

 
A lawyer representing the Seminole Square Shopping Center told the Charlottesville Planning Commission Tuesday that the construction of one of the region’s top transportation priorities may not proceed as planned if the stormwater management plan for the Shops at Stonefield are not amended.
 
20120710-hillsdale-flood A map projecting how the stormwwater basin would be flooded in the event of a 100-year storm. Credit: Great Eastern Management Company
“It is likely that Hillsdale Drive will not be built if this thing goes forth,” said Frederick W. Payne, representing the Great Eastern Management Company, the owner of Seminole Square. 
 
The commission voted 6-0 to recommend that City Council uphold a determination by city staff that the developer of Stonefield, Edens, violated the conditions of an erosion and sedimentation permit issued by the city’s department of Neighborhood Development Service. 
 
The city claims that Edens prematurely opened a 72 inch pipe that carries an unnamed tributary of Meadow Creek underneath U.S. 29. That pipe is also designed to carry a portion of excess stormwater from the Stonefield site in the event of heavy rainfall. The rest would flow through an existing 42 inch pipe. 
 
Water from both would flow into an existing stormwater basin between Seminole Square and the U.S. Post Office that is designed to handle a 100-year storm but assumes no development at the 65-acre Stonefield site.
 
“If they had never put their water in here, we would never in any way be impacted to have the existing basin’s ability to handle a 100-year storm,” said David Mitchell, an engineer with Great Eastern. 
 

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July 05, 2012

VDOT pilots new traffic signal technology on Pantops

DailyProgressBy Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, July 5, 2012

A new type of adaptive traffic signal technology is being used in the Pantops area of U.S. 250 to relieve traffic congestion. While other parts of the community have intelligent traffic signals, the Pantops system goes beyond timing plans and adds scanning of side-street traffic needs.

The Virginia Department of Transportation installed InSync signal controllers last fall to improve the flow of traffic following the move of Martha Jefferson Hospital to its new home on Pantops.

20070702-Pantops250b“It’s a relatively inexpensive way to increase the capacity of the corridor there,” said VDOT engineer Joel DeNunzio.

Pantops was the first place in the greater Albemarle area to receive the technology, which uses sensors and cameras to monitor traffic flow. It analyzes the data it collects and programs the stoplights to allow traffic from the side streets to merge into gaps in oncoming traffic on 250.

“It knows when a platoon of traffic is moving along the main line and senses the demand along the side streets and is able to change its timing based on that,” DeNunzio said.

InSync was developed by Rhythm Engineering, a Kansas-based engineering firm that has installed the technology at more than 700 intersections in 19 states. It costs about $30,000 per intersection.

Jenny Kutz, the firm’s marketing manager, said InSync has other benefits beyond improving traffic flow.

“With less stopping there is less chance for accidents,” Kutz said. “InSync is proven to reduce crashes by up to a third and we are seeing that in three different cities with police data.”

Kutz also said InSync can reduce travel time up to 50 percent and fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30 percent.

Not everyone who drives the corridor has noticed improved traffic flow, though.

Continue reading "VDOT pilots new traffic signal technology on Pantops" »

July 03, 2012

Early bypass plans raise questions

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 is completed as early as July 2016, drivers heading north around Charlottesville will be welcomed by a new traffic signal.

After the intersection with Leonard Sandridge Road, drivers will have a 6.2-mile, signal-free journey before being deposited back on U.S. 29 near Hollymead Town Center in Albemarle’s northern growth area.

“According to the conceptual roadway plans, there will be traffic signals to control traffic flow at the termination of the ramps to and from the U.S. 250/U.S. 29 bypass,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.

That came as a surprise to Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council, a group opposed to the bypass.

“Previously, the bypass design had traffic at both termini flowing onto and off of 29,” Werner said. “Now, with stoplights at the south ... I’m curious how that will cut into that time savings.”

In May, VDOT officials opened up plans from seven different teams that responded to a request for proposals to both design and build the road.

The lowest-priced proposal was a $136 million bid from a team consisting of Skanska USA and Branch Highways. However, the state’s public procurement law prevented the public from initially being able to see the 323-page proposal until the Commonwealth Transportation Board officially awarded a contract on June 20.

Continue reading "Early bypass plans raise questions" »

New transit study seeks to improve service in Charlottesville

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Charlottesville Area Transit system would appear to be at a crossroads. The big question facing the City Council is whether the bus system should have more frequent service on similar routes, a new route system or perhaps something even “bolder.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, councilors were briefed on the start of a new nine-month, $116,000 study to answer just that question.

20120525-transit
12 of 13 of CAT routes radiate from the Downtown Transit Center

“Our goal is to determine the most effective way to organize and run transit in Charlottesville,” said Geoff Slater, a project manager with San Francisco-based consultants Nelson Nygaard. “We want to increase ridership; we also want to attract new riders to the system and provide better service to existing riders.”

Slater’s team began meeting individually with city councilors on Monday to launch the study.

“I am encouraged you are going to look at things that are not just tweaking,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos. “You will look at things we have never heard of … . I really appreciate the breadth and creativity you will bring to this process.”

“We have heard you want us to be a lot bolder than what has been done before,” Slater responded.

Mayor Satyendra Huja called on the consultants to “think bold, think radical.”

Longtime transit manager Bill Watterson left in May for Burlington, Vt. Under his leadership, annual CAT ridership increased from 1.35 million in 2004 to 2.4 million in 2011.

While a national search will soon be underway for Watterson’s replacement, the goal remains clear — Charlottesville wants public transit to be an attractive choice so there will be increased mobility and fewer cars on city streets.

“We are looking to having a new set of eyes look at what we do,” said Judy Mueller, the city’s director of public works, in an interview. “The study will also evaluate how we spend our money today. Is there a better way to spend the money we already have?”

So with increasing ridership, does Charlottesville literally need to reinvent the wheel?

Continue reading "New transit study seeks to improve service in Charlottesville" »

June 27, 2012

Transportation Secretary Connaughton addresses area business leaders

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 27, 2012

Business leaders from both Charlottesville and Lynchburg gathered at the Doubletree Hotel Wednesday to hear from the man who has overseen the resurrection of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29
 
Connaughton
Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation (Photo credit: Andrew Shurtleff/Daily Progress)
“This is a region that has grown quite a bit and you have a lot of congestion and, quite honestly, the state has not invested the type of money that you need,” said Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia’s secretary of transportation. 
 
Connaughton was the guest of the North Charlottesville Business Council, a group of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. The organization was formed in 1993 in part to lobby against alternatives to the bypass. NCBC member Henry Weinschenk, the owner of Express Car Wash, is a long-time opponent of one such alternative, converting signalized intersections along existing U.S. 29 to grade-separated interchanges. 
 
“The bypass is logical, commonsense and it’s the way we’ve been suggesting for a long time,” Weinschenk said. “To build grade-separated interchanges, you’d essentially have to destroy most business along U.S. 29.” 
 
The interchanges were discussed while the Places29 Master Plan was developed in the last decade, but their construction was de-prioritized before the Albemarle Board of Supervisors adopted the plan in February 2011. 
 

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June 24, 2012

Routes to Greer Elementary, Jouett Middle School to get safer

DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, June 24, 2012

Almost all of the students at Greer Elementary and Jack Jouett Middle School get there either by taking the bus or being driven by a parent.

20051005-SafeRoutes“There are no sidewalks on Lambs Road … it’s just not safe,” said Dieckmann Cogill, a transportation planner hired by the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation.

However, that could change if Albemarle County is successful in getting a federal infrastructure improvement grant.

Under the federally funded Safe Routes to School program, localities may apply for grants to improve paths leading to schools to make them more pedestrian friendly. The county already has received such a grant for Burnley-Moran and Crozet elementaries and is looking to do it again.

The ACCT worked with the county to develop a travel plan for the schools to propose solutions for existing hazards. Students who walk to school are often forced to do so in the road or in the drainage shoulder.

The plan, still in its initial phase, consists of seven separate projects, each of which must be prioritized by the Department of Community Development before construction may begin.

“We have a priority list of sidewalks that we use for our request for sidewalk funding,” explained David Benish, chief of planning, in an interview. “The ability to implement the [Safe Routes to School] plan is based on the amount of funding available to do [such plans], plus all the other priority projects.”

Continue reading "Routes to Greer Elementary, Jouett Middle School to get safer" »