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September 29, 2009

New VDOT study of U.S. 29 recommends use of Western Bypass route and new elevated connector in City’s Hydraulic Rd area

Reader comments (0) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) report on the future of U.S. 29 will recommend the consideration of two new roads in the Charlottesville area. The first would extend the University of Virginia’s Leonard Sandridge Road using some portions of the right-of-way previously purchased for the U.S. 29 Western Bypass.  The second would connect U.S. 29 to the 250 Bypass via a partially elevated roadway near the Kroger at Hydraulic Road.

VDOT hired the Parsons Transportation Group earlier this year to conduct the study, which examined the 219 mile U.S. 29 corridor between the North Carolina border and Gainesville. Joseph Springer, project manager for the study, showed conceptual drawings of the two projects to the local Metropolitan Planning Organization board last week.

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Springer said the idea of a four-lane limited access Western Bypass is “no longer an effective option to serve corridor-wide trips.”  However, he said the study would recommend that the right-of-way, currently owned by VDOT be considered as a possible transportation corridor to serve local traffic.. He suggested this could take the form of an extension of Leonard Sandridge Road.

“The idea is to extend the parallel road system that comes out of Places29 and taking that down to Route 250,” Springer said.

20090929-Map

(Click for a larger image)
Use by permission of Daily Progress
Springer said the study will recommend three potential alternatives for the extension. Alternative 1 would connect Leonard Sandridge Road to the intersection of Georgetown Road and Barracks Road along a new route. Alternatives 2 and 3 would both follow portions of the Western Bypass route, with one connecting at Hydraulic Road near Albemarle High School and the other connecting onto Earlysville Road.

‘It would not function as a bypass but would serve local traffic,” said Charlie Rasnick, a retired VDOT engineer who is working on the study. He said the idea was to extend the parallel roads concept.

VDOT began purchasing parcels of land along the bypass’s route in the mid-1990’s and has spent $33.7 million to acquire at least some of the right-of-way. State law requires the agency to begin selling back those parcels twenty-years after the original purchase date if they are not used.

Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council said he was disappointed that this latest study recommends the Leonard Sandridge Road extension because two previous studies in which VDOT was involved did not recommend it.

“Given VDOT’s participation in both Places29 and the 29H250 study, the community should be wondering why VDOT is coming in and presenting something which is contradictory,” Werner said. “My feeling is that VDOT was absolutely determined to find some use for the right of way they acquired.”

In April, a study of the extension was taken out of the MPO’s long-range transportation plan at the request of Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). At the MPO meeting, Rooker told Springer he had concerns with what he called a $100 million project.

“What you’re recommending be studied is that we build a parallel road to the parallel road,” Rooker said. He added that drivers can already travel from Barracks Road to the Airport without ever touching U.S. 29 by using Georgetown, Hydraulic and Earlysville Roads.

Springer said the intention was not necessarily to take traffic off of U.S. 29, but was instead to expand the County’s parallel network of roads.

The idea has at least the preliminary support of business policy organization.“Any alternative to U.S. 29 will provide a measure of relief,” said Neil Williamson, director of the Free Enterprise Forum. He said the extended road would make it easier for people to get to the University of Virginia, and could pave the way for additional transit options.

The proposal to extend Leonard Sandridge Road straight to Georgetown Road led residents in one County neighborhood to call a community meeting Sunday evening.

“We are very concerned about those proposals, especially Alternative 1, because of the negative impact it would have directly on our neighborhood,” said Bob Garland Jr., secretary of the Canterbury Hills Association.

20090929-VDOT-250-Hydraulic

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The other road called for in the study would be a new connector road linking Hydraulic Road with the 250 Bypass via a new interchange. An image included in the MPO’s presentation depicts the road as passing through the existing Kroger and the Quality Inn.

“The key assumption of that is that the area is redeveloped,” Springer said. The objective would be to remove traffic from the bottleneck at the current U.S. 250 and U.S. 29 interchange. 

On the subject of the entire corridor, Springer told the MPO that the main goal of the study is to improve access management.

Here are some of the major recommendations for the entire corridor:

  • Long-term goal is to only allow access to U.S. 29 at secondary roads, restricting or prohibiting access via driveways and entrances
  • VDOT should consider purchasing development rights along corridor
  • VDOT should give incentives to creating parallel roads in urban areas
  • VDOT should develop a master plan for access management throughout entire corridor, with VDOT serving as “steward” of this key transportation resource
  • Rail capacity should be increased with double tracks along corridor
  • Grade separated interchanges should be built at bottlenecks
  • Traffic signals in urbanized areas should be re-timed at least every three years
  • Where possible, “side-street acceleration lanes” should be constructed

Parsons said VDOT should strive to eliminate traffic signals on Route 29. He said each signal puts pressure on communities to develop around them, and the short-term benefits to that local community of that development are outweighed by the long-term impacts to the region as a whole.

The final report will also recommend that localities seek new sources of revenue to help pay for improvements to U.S. 29, including the creation of service districts which assess additional property taxes.

Citizens can review the plans and the draft study from 5:00 to 8:00 PM on September 29, 2009 at the Virginia Department of Forestry building near the University of Virginia’s Fontaine Research Center.

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