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January 27, 2011

MPO begins rewriting long-range transportation plan

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 27, 2011

The organization that coordinates transportation policy for the region has begun the process of developing a new long-range plan. But members of the group’s Policy Board seemed more concerned Wednesday with finding ways to fund projects that have been in the planning stage for decades.

“We’ve got five or six projects that are really pressing and at the top of our agendas,” said Duane Snow, the newest member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Snow, an Albemarle County supervisor, wanted to know the status of plans to widen U.S. 29 near Forest Lakes and to extend Berkmar Drive to Airport Road. Both are called for in Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan.

However, Snow was told none of those projects is even close to construction because all are in the conceptual stage.

“To be ready to go, you have to have gotten through all of the steps in the development process, which is arduous,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, which oversees the MPO.

20110126-MPO-Shot
(left to right)City Councilor Kristin Szakos, Supervisor Rodney Thomas, James Utterback of VDOT

“We’ve got a number of projects in the design phase,” said James Utterback, the administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District. “But typically we don’t move projects forward if we don’t have a funding stream.”

For instance, the widening of U.S. 29 is not on VDOT’s six-year plan for primary road projects because there is no money to pay for it. The current draft of the Places29 plan only calls for design work to be performed in the first five years of the plan, which is slated to be adopted later this year.

Design work for Hillsdale Drive Extended, another of the projects called for in the Places29 plan, is about two-thirds complete, according to Jeanette Janiczek, Charlottesville transportation planner.

However, its construction will depend on right-of-way being donated by property owners.

A project to build a second on-ramp for the U.S. 250 Bypass from U.S. 29 received a setback when a Congressional earmark to fund final design of the project was not included in the federal budget.

As for Berkmar, there is no clear source of funding for Albemarle’s secondary road projects. The state has drastically reduced allocations from $5.15 million in 2004 to $325,000 this fiscal year.

For many years, the county has applied its secondary road funding to three projects. Its portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway is to be completed next year, and improvements to Jarman’s Gap Road and Georgetown Road likely will be advertised for construction this year.  Jarman's Gap Road has already been advertised and bids are expected to be reviewed in February.

Federal policy requires each MPO to adopt a long-range plan to show that future transportation needs will be met. The last plan, known as the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan, was adopted in May 2009 

The next one is required to be completed by May 2014.

The next plan will be put together with an increased awareness of building “sustainability” into the transportation network, meaning there will be an emphasis on finding ways to get people out of their cars. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission was recently awarded a $999,000 grant by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to help coordinate planning among localities.

“Both Charlottesville and Albemarle will be updating their comprehensive plans at the same time,” Williams said. The grant will pay for additional planning staff to coordinate efforts.

Albemarle Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas welcomed the possibility of joint planning.

“We need more interconnectivity to make the area more of one community,” said Thomas, who will become chairman of the MPO in March.

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