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May 24, 2012

Traffic model projects heavy use for a future Eastern Connector

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 23, 2012

A traffic model conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission shows that an Eastern Connector linking U.S. 29 with Route 20 would carry high traffic volumes if its alignment went through a section of Charlottesville’s Pen Park
This map depicts the traffic model generated by the MPO for a four-lane Eastern Connector that travels through or near Pen Park
However, at Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, local officials said they found challenges with all four different road alignments and expressed doubts it could be built.
“This project has some of the most substantial [traffic] rearrangements of any of the projects we’re looking at,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC. 
The TJPDC is currently updating the MPO’s long-range transportation plan. That document lists all road projects that are both planned for the next 25 years and eligible for federal funding. 
In February, the MPO policy board directed staff to model hypothetical projects such as the Southern Parkway, an expansion of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29, as well as the Eastern Connector. 
MPO staff used a computer model to calculate how much traffic would be generated by each of the projects. The model is built on projected traffic conditions for the year 2040 and assumes that all projects on the current long-range transportation plan have been completed. 
The work involved four alternatives for the Eastern Connector, including two that would enhance Polo Grounds Road and Proffit Road. It also included two alternatives that would travel west of Route 20 north of Darden-Towe Park, cross the Rivanna River, travel along the southern and western edges of Pen Park, and connect to Rio Road. 
“Both of these alternatives draw an awful lot of traffic,” Williams said. 

Continue reading "Traffic model projects heavy use for a future Eastern Connector " »

May 15, 2012

VDOT further explains bypass budget

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation plan to use lower-than-expected land acquisition costs to help ensure that the 6.2-mile Western Bypass of U.S. 29 in Albemarle County stays within its $244.5 million budget.
“The right-of-way estimate has gone down considerably,” said James Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.
Through July, VDOT spent $47 million on preliminary engineering and to acquire 83 parcels for right-of-way.
Also In July, the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated an additional $197.4 million for the project. Of that amount, $7.4 million was designated for additional engineering, $118.2 million for construction and $71 million to buy the rest of the highway’s route.
Seven firms bid on a proposal to design and build the highway. When their prices were opened Friday, Virginia Beach-based Skanska had submitted the lowest bid, at just under $136 million for design and construction.
That prompted questions over whether VDOT would have to ask the CTB for additional funding to complete the project. Utterback responded that VDOT will not need $71 million to complete buying land.
“We carried a number of $71 million, which had been around for a while, and we hadn’t had a close look at it,” Utterback said. “$33.7 million has been spent and we have $35 million [left] that we’re estimating,” Utterback said.

Continue reading "VDOT further explains bypass budget" »

March 28, 2012

MPO remains concerned about changing transportation laws

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board is urging Gov. Bob McDonnell to amend legislation that its members say will take decision-making powers away from localities.
HB1248 and SB639 passed both houses of the General Assembly earlier this year.
The MPO on March 28, 2012
"They require that localities prepare transportation plans to submit to the Virginia Department of Transportation for review, and once [localities] adopt a plan, [they] have to submit that to VDOT as well," said David Blount, legislative liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
VDOT's review would determine whether local transportation plans are consistent with the state's six-year transportation plan. If not, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would have the power to withhold funds from localities.
The MPO voted Wednesday to send a letter to McDonnell calling for him to veto or amend the bill.
"The proposed language presents a scenario where one side always holds the winning cards, rather than one that promotes a more collaborative partnership," reads the letter signed by City Councilor and MPO Chair Kristin Szakos on behalf of the board.
"Since the CTB also has the ability to designate project routes, these provisions seem to usurp local control and to give the state the power to force the insertion of projects into locality plans," the letter continues.

Continue reading "MPO remains concerned about changing transportation laws" »

February 24, 2012

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

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.

Continue reading "Design work on U.S. 29 widening to start this summer" »

February 23, 2012

MPO agrees to conduct traffic modeling for bypass extension, other projects

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 23, 2012

The local Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board agreed Wednesday to conduct traffic models on a series of hypothetical projects in order to determine if they should be included in the region’s long-range transportation plan, including a potential extension of the proposed Western Bypass of U.S. 29.


MPO Policy Board

“We are simply starting the process of investigating concepts or ideas for eventual inclusion in the long-range transportation plan, and we’ll be going through a lengthy process of analysis,” said Stephen W. Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

By federal law, each MPO must adopt a long-range transportation plan that lists all desired projects. The next update of the plan must be approved by the middle of 2014.

“We need to go through a very rigorous process of identifying projects to be included in the [plan],” Williams said. “We need to look at projects that are going to improve our transportation system… and we ultimately need for the projects to be fiscally constrained, meaning we can’t plan for more projects then we can reasonably expect to afford in the 30-year time frame of the plan.”

Williams said he expected many of the projects would be eliminated, some would be modified and some may be added as a result of the public participation system.

Several members of the public spoke to express an opinion on the possible bypass extension.

“The current plan would bring it out where traffic traveling northbound would hit five traffic lights, one right after another,” said Forest Lakes South resident Steve James. “The extension would do away with that problem and make it a true bypass.”

“We are strongly opposed to extending the bypass since it’s such a poor, ill-founded road to begin with and extending it will only make it worse,” said George Larie, the president of the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition.

Continue reading "MPO agrees to conduct traffic modeling for bypass extension, other projects" »

January 26, 2012

MPO gets preview of future traffic projections

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 26, 2012

A traffic forecasting model created by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is projecting that roads in Charlottesville and Albemarle County will be more crowded over the next few decades, even as improvements such as the Western Bypass are built.

Some routes in heavy use today will face what TJPDC characterized as “gridlock," including points on U.S. 29 both north and south of the Western Bypass.


An overview of the model of the 2040 scenario

“This is a real wake-up call that if we’re serious about alleviating congestion, we’re going to keep hitting snags no matter what we do to fix the roads,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos at Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board.

The model forecasts what traffic conditions will be in 2040 and assumes all projects in the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range transportation plan will be built by then. It uses future housing construction data to calculate how traffic volumes on roadway segments will be affected by population growth and other changes in socioeconomic conditions.

The combined population of the MPO area in 2010 was 118,546. The 2040 scenario assumes a population of 188,610. In 2010, there were an estimated 495,000 vehicle trips per day. The 2040 scenario assumes that will increase to 727,487.

Continue reading "MPO gets preview of future traffic projections " »

January 01, 2012

Board leadership, appointments could be contentious

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 1, 2012

When the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors holds its first meeting of 2012 on Wednesday, members say they may immediately deadlock on the question of leadership and critical committee appointments.

Among the positions at stake are chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors and the two seats held by supervisors on the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO is the key transportation funding and policy body that will have some oversight over the recently approved U.S. 29 Western Bypass project.

During the previous two years, a conservative majority consisting of three Republicans and one Democrat have held sway with 4-2 votes on a number of controversial issues, including the bypass and some environmental matters. That block’s de-facto leader is Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who was just re-elected to a third term.

On these contentious issues, Boyd has been joined in the majority by fellow Republicans Duane E. Snow and Rodney S. Thomas and conservative Democrat Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. With Dorrier’s retirement, and the election of Democrat Christopher J. Dumler to the open Scottsville District seat, the specter of split government may be returning to the County Office Building.

“The board has a 3-3 split that will probably emerge on some issues now that there’s no longer a 4-2 majority on Ken Boyd’s side,” said independent Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.

Continue reading "Board leadership, appointments could be contentious" »

November 17, 2011

MPO directs staff to turn information over to VDOT

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, November 17, 2011

A dispute between the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and the administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District was resolved Wednesday. 

The Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board voted 4-1 to direct Stephen Williams to hand over details of changes made to a traffic forecast model.  Williams said he was trying to protect the community from having the data misused to support unwanted road projects. 

The TJPDC hired a planner in 2010 specifically to refine and operate the model so it can be used for local planning purposes. The model, which uses a format originally developed by VDOT, is intended to predict what effect potential road improvements will have on the number of trips generated by motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. 

Steve Williams

“We think the model is in good shape to be used for forecasting purposes,” Williams said. “We have provided all of these materials to both representatives of the university and its consultants as well as VDOT’s district and central offices.”

James Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District and a voting member of the MPO, said he has been concerned about the way the model has been altered. 

“It’s important for the MPO and VDOT to agree on changes to the model and verify those changes and then go through a validation and calibration process,” Utterback said. 

Continue reading "MPO directs staff to turn information over to VDOT" »

October 26, 2011

Developer and MPO seeking grant for JPA/Emmet intersection improvements

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A schematic of the planned intersection improvements adjacent to the new Oakhurst Inn and Apartments

The developer of a new bed and breakfast in Charlottesville has received the support of the Metropolitan Planning Organization to pursue a state grant to pay for improvements to the intersection of Emmet Street and Jefferson Park Avenue.

When completed, motorists heading down JPA towards the University of Virginia Medical Center will have to pass through the traffic signal, improving conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The grant would facilitate the redevelopment project.

“It will be a lodging business right next to the university, and I think this is a good way to fund some much needed renovations to these buildings,” said Bill Chapman, the developer of the Oakhurst Inn and Apartments and co-founder of C-Ville Weekly

The project will consist of a new 36-unit apartment complex, a renovation of an existing 5-bedroom house, and the conversion of three buildings into a 27 room bed and breakfast.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission granted a special use permit for the project in December 2008. One of the conditions was that Chapman design improvements at the intersection and pay for its construction. 

Continue reading "Developer and MPO seeking grant for JPA/Emmet intersection improvements " »

October 05, 2011

MPO area may expand

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has told members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization that census data may show that Lake Monticello and Ruckersville qualify to be added to the MPO’s boundaries.

“There might be some expansion of the MPO boundary at the discretion of this board,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the TJPDC.

Federal law requires areas with urbanized populations greater than 50,000 to have an MPO for the purposes of transportation planning. The MPO is responsible for maintaining a long-range transportation plan, as well as a transportation improvement plan that coordinates funding.


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MPO boundary as of 2010

The U.S. Census Bureau will publish a map this spring of the areas that the federal government considers to be urbanized. Greene County’s population increased 20 percent from 2000 to 2010. That county’s most recent Comprehensive Plan also designated Ruckersville as part of its designated growth area.

“We have been hearing that Greene County thinks Ruckersville should be part of the MPO and we expect that when the time comes that they are going to want to come in to make their case,” Williams said at the MPO’s meeting late last month.

He said he has heard similar ideas from Fluvanna County about Lake Monticello. Crozet is not currently part of the MPO planning region, but also could also be added.

“We could get an MPO that looks a little bit like an octopus,” said Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos.

Williams said it would be up to the existing members of the MPO to decide if they want to expand.

However, he added that if the Environmental Protection Agency determines that the region is exceeding air quality guidelines, the MPO’s boundaries would automatically be extended to include all of Albemarle County.

“They are the boundaries that we use for all of our planning purposes … they need to extend to what we view as the edge of our 20-year planning and development horizon,” Williams said.

The MPO uses a computer model to generate traffic projections based upon data from the census and other sources. The agency is currently updating the model. The new information will be used as part of the planning work that will go into the update of the long-range transportation plan.

“We think it’s going to be a very powerful tool going forward for the MPO to use in our modeling and traffic analysis purposes,” Williams said.

The model will be available for the Virginia Department of Transportation and local governments to use after it is calibrated later this year.

However, VDOT Culpeper District administrator James Utterback said the TJPDC could improve its coordination with VDOT on changes to the model.

“There are fairly rigid protocols for these things and policies for procedures for updating and maintaining the models,” Utterback said. “If the goal is to have an accepted model, I don’t want to go a couple of months and all of sudden VDOT has a lot of questions about the changes.”

But Williams said he believes it had been appropriately vetted by the MPO’s Tech Committee and added that he has been coordinating with engineers with VDOT’s Central Office.

“They understood the changes that we made and didn’t voice any specific disagreements with those changes,” Williams said.

Utterback asked for documentation that the coordination had occurred, which Williams said he would provide.

The long-range transportation plan currently under development sets a planning horizon of 2040. The plan will be adopted by the MPO in the spring of 2014. The last was adopted in May 2009 but was amended in July to allow federal funding for the Western Bypass.

Williams also told the MPO Policy Board that the Federal Highway Administration is warning VDOT and all MPOs in the state that its transportation improvement program is in violation of federal code.

“They do not believe the process that is being used now to develop the [state and local plans] conforms with federal requirements, particularly in the area of fiscal constraint and also project prioritization,” Williams said.

He added that he did not believe this would invalidate previous plans, but would mean some changes to the process in the future. However, if the FHWA did not approve state and local plans, no federal funds could be disbursed to the state.

In other news, ridership on Charlottesville Area Transit continues to grow.

“We had over 2.3 million riders [last fiscal year], which is our highest year, and that represented more than a 5 percent increase compared with the last fiscal year,” said CAT’s director, Bill Watterson.

Watterson said the primary reason for the growth is due to the ridership agreement with the University of Virginia that allows students and faculty to ride free by showing their university ID.