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December 08, 2010

Two long-awaited road projects poised to move forward in Albemarle

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A pair of projects to improve two key Albemarle connector roads will move forward this winter after years of planning.

A $13.5 million project to widen a stretch of Jarman’s Gap Road in Crozet will be advertised for construction in January 2011. The right of way phase for this project first began in 1998.

“Given the amount of development that has taken place, the improvements are important for providing adequate access,” said chief planner David Benish in an interview. The project will also add sidewalks and a bike lane, which will make downtown Crozet more accessible.

Georgetown Road will also get pedestrian improvements as part of a $2.3 million dollar project that will be advertised in February. That project has been scaled back dramatically due to funding cutbacks and a lack of space. A sidewalk will be built on the western side of the road, but there is no room for a bike lane.

“Even with available funding it would be very expensive and cost-prohibitive because of the amount of existing development on the road,” Benish said.

For several years, the two projects have been among the county’s top transportation priorities. Another is Albemarle’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway, for which the county invested over $30 million.

Under VDOT regulations, localities must save up the entire amount of a project’s cost estimate before construction can be advertised. Accruing the money for all three projects has taken longer than expected because of state budget cuts.

In 2005, Albemarle received around $5.5 million in secondary road funds. That figure has dropped to around $325,000 for the current fiscal year. VDOT will release an estimate for how much Albemarle can expect in FY2012 later this month.

Even though funds are limited, supervisors will be asked early next year to indicate their priorities for what secondary roads will be funded next.

"It's always good to have a plan for when opportunities present themselves,” said Benish. One of those opportunities could be the release of several hundreds of millions of dollars uncovered an internal VDOT audit.

The next project to accrue funding will be a replacement of a wooden railroad bridge on Broomley Road off U.S. Route 250 West  that was damaged when a train hit it in August 2007. In April, chief planner David Benish told the board that it might not be until 2017 before enough money is accumulated  for the project.

Another opportunity for new funding could come as the Meadowcreek Parkway is completed.

“The bid came in less than we had originally estimated, and we put a lot of our secondary road funds in it over many, many years,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker. 

Karen Kilby, investment manager for VDOT’s Culpeper District, said she would not know about any unspent balance until at least five months after the project is complete in late 2011.

The county is also facing a potential setback in an alternative effort to pave gravel roads while avoiding extensive widening. The state places a high priority on paving roads, but VDOT standards require at least a 40 foot right-of way. Concerned that such roads would attract more development in the rural area, supervisors opted instead to use VDOT’s rural rustic program which allows for more flexibility in design, less impact to the landscape, and results in a lower cost.

However, Supervisor Ann Mallek recently discovered that the rural rustic program will not be the cheaper alternative it was expected to be.

 “Our estimates that we’d been looking at for some of these roads are woefully undervalued, to the tune of two or three times,” Mallek said during the board’s December 1 meeting. “There has been a change in procedure that requires professional engineers’ signatures on all plans instead of just sending our paving company out there to grade them, put the ditches in and drop the asphalt.”

Two Supervisors fail in attempt to resurrect western bypass

The controversial 6.1 mile Western Bypass of U.S. 29 remains dead, despite an attempt by two supervisors to revive it last week.

“In the past, the majority of this board has been totally opposed to it,” said Supervisor Ken Boyd. “I’m not so sure that’s still the case.”

Boyd asked the board if they would consider bringing the Western Bypass back before the Metropolitan Policy Organization. The MPO has never authorized funding for construction of the road, thought it has accepted $47.2 million in state and federal funding for design and the purchase of right of way.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas supported the request, but no other supervisors voiced their support at the meeting.

Reached in an interview, Supervisor Duane Snow said he did not support bringing the idea back at this time.

Boyd said he wanted further study to determine whether the right of way could have some value as a parallel road or limited access parkway. However, that idea would also appear to be off the table. In October 2009, the board asked a consultant preparing a study of the U.S. 29 corridor to delete language that called the right of way to extend Leonard Sandridge Road north of the U.S. 250 bypass.


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