A wish list that Albemarle County sends to the Virginia Department of Transportation each year is not expected to change this time around due to reduced state funding and uncertainties about how the new Board of Supervisors views the county’s future road network.
“Due to the limited funding that’s available, what we’re proposing is that we not add any new projects but focus in on finishing projects that are currently in the plan,” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning.
The economic downturn that began in 2008 decimated the funding the state provides to localities for secondary road projects and to pave rural roads.
Until then, the county collected millions each year in funding. That money paid for projects such as the John Warner Parkway and pedestrian improvements on Georgetown and Jarmans Gap roads.
However, Benish said, the county now only expects to receive $4.76 million over the next six years from the state, with most of that money required to go to unpaved roads and bridge repair projects. Not a single dollar is designated for other secondary road projects.
To coordinate planning, VDOT asks counties to provide a list of their priorities as part of the development of their six-year improvement plan. Projects must be in the six-year plan to receive funding.
“The unpaved road projects that are on the list are Pocket Lane, Midway Road, Keswick Road and Rio Mills Road,” Benish said. That means they will likely be built within the time period.
The first three of those projects qualify for VDOT’s rural rustic program, which is less costly because paving is done to a lesser standard as the roads carry relatively low traffic volumes.
“Rio Mills Road is going to require right of way dedication and a design standard that’s greater than for rural rustic roads, and it will be the most costly project to build,” Benish said.
Rio Mills Road has an estimate of about $4 million and is the county’s highest unpaved road priority.
“It’s within our development area, it connects development areas, and is a parallel road to U.S. 29, and serves an active quarry,” Benish said.
Supervisor Ann Mallek said she would not support saving money for Rio Mills Road given that an extension of Berkmar Drive could soon be a reality.
Former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet has recommended using $51 million that would have been spent on the Western Bypass to build that road to Hollymead Town Center.
“We have some planning time to figure out if that prioritization really should stick,” Mallek said. “Having driven Rio Mills road on the way here, it’s in rough shape but I’m not sure it should be No. 1.”
It is not yet known whether the Commonwealth Transportation Board will approve Shucet’s suggestion of funding Berkmar, which would likely be a secondary road.
In the absence of certainty, Benish recommended making no changes.
In addition to Berkmar, the county’s list of secondary road projects includes improvements on Proffit Road, the Sunset-Fontaine Connector and the Southern Parkway. Those priorities have not changed for many years but may change as supervisors review the Comprehensive Plan.
“We do hope that as you progress through the Comprehensive Plan and the [MPO’s] long-range transportation plan is adopted, we’ll come back and revisit the priorities and take a bigger picture approach,” Benish said.
The county keeps two lists for unpaved roads. One is for regular unpaved roads and one is for the rural rustic program.
There are many projects on both lists that are not yet in line to receive funding.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd wanted to know why Bunker Hill Road was not prioritized to be funded.
“Constituents out there tell me they’ve been on the list for 40 years and they keep getting taken off the rural rustic list and put on the regular list,” Boyd said.
Benish said Bunker Hill Road is the fourth highest priority for regular road paving and that VDOT officials have said it is eligible for rural rustic paving. He said next year’s “bigger picture” approach will include combining the two lists to avoid confusion.
“We want to be respectful of your desire to keep projects in the relatively same priority,” Benish said. “It’s on the list and my suspicion is that because of the [high] traffic volume and because of its location it will end up high on the meshed list.”
Paving projects have recently been completed on Gillums Ridge Road and Blufton Road.
The county has received three new requests for paving projects which are not yet on the priority list. These include Old Green Mountain Road, which connects Route 6 and the Howardsville Turnpike.
Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the priority list on June 11.