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February 24, 2012

Design work on U.S. 29 widening to start this summer

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 24, 2012

Engineers with the Virginia Department of Transportation will begin design work this summer on a $32.5 million project to widen U.S. 29 from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead Town Center to six lanes.

“That project is in the [VDOT] six-year plan and funds become available on July 1,” said VDOT engineer Brent Sprinkel in a meeting Wednesday of the Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board.
Sprinkel said a tentative date for construction would be 2015 after all environmental reviews of the project are conducted.
“Until we finalize the scoping, it’s really hard to set [a construction] date,” Sprinkel said.
The project was approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board last July at the same meeting in which $197.4 million in additional funds were allocated to the Western Bypass of U.S. 29.
Sprinkel’s comments came during a briefing on VDOT’s priority projects, which include the replacement of the Belmont Bridge in Charlottesville, which is scheduled to be advertised for construction in September 2013.
The replacement has been in the planning process for several years, but a design commissioned by the city met with some opposition from the community. That resulted in a contest called Project Gait-Way that yielded many new ideas. The City Council will discuss how to proceed on the bridge replacement at its March 5 meeting.
“We are currently re-evaluating how we’re going to move forward with the design competition results,” said Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s urban construction initiative manager.
Another VDOT priority is the extension of Hillsdale Drive in Charlottesville from Greenbrier Drive southward to Hydraulic Road at the new Whole Foods.
Janiczek said the city is hoping to complete right-of-way negotiations for Hillsdale Drive Extended by July 2013. She said the city is requesting property owners to donate land in order to lower the $30.5 million cost estimate.
Sprinkel also said preliminary engineering is under way for adding a second westbound ramp at the Emmet Street/U.S. 29-250 interchange, otherwise known as the Best Buy Ramp.
“We’re reevaluating the traffic analysis on it and at this time we’re hoping to go to construction in 2014 or earlier if we think we can avoid some [additional] right-of-way,” Sprinkel said.
VDOT took over management of the project from the city in 2011.
A draft of VDOT’s six-year-plan reflecting budgetary changes to all of these projects will be available for review in April. The CTB is expected to approve the plan in June.
The MPO was also updated on legislative issues, including a bill in the General Assembly that would have changed many facets of transportation planning in Virginia.
Among other things, HB1248 would have created a toll road authority and would have required MPOs to have transportation plans approved by VDOT.
“That legislation was substantially redrafted in a much narrower form,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “At this point, they’ve gone from the broad policy changes we saw in the original versions to very narrowly focused bills which are dealing with finance issues.”
At the congressional level, the House of Representatives and Senate have competing transportation agency reauthorization bills that could affect the future of the MPO.
The Senate version of the bill continues to include a plan to lower the minimum population threshold for MPOs to 200,000. If approved, that would require the Charlottesville MPO to petition the state and federal governments to continue to exist.
The Senate bill also eliminates federal transportation enhancement grants.
“[They] have been used in this area to develop a number of bike and pedestrian projects and some of the more innovative projects that are being done at the University of Virginia,” Williams said, referring to a bike share program that UVA is seeking to develop with federal funds.
However, Williams said floor debates on both bills have been delayed many times and have not yet been scheduled.
“Experts that we have access to in Congress are telling us that it’s very likely there won’t be a reauthorization bill approved prior to the elections,” Williams said.


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