The local panel that approves federal transportation funding has endorsed a $203 million package of construction to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29.
“I know that nobody got everything that they wanted and some people got some things they didn’t really want,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos, chairwoman of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“But I think I certainly feel it’s a lot better than it could have been,” she said.
On Wednesday, the MPO endorsed a package of projects recommended by Philip Shucet, a former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation. He and a panel of stakeholders from along the U.S. 29 corridor were tasked with evaluating alternative uses for about $200 million that is currently allocated to the now-defunct Western Bypass.
The MPO’s endorsement came one day after Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors indicated its support of the project in a 5-1 vote. Four out of five city councilors informally signaled their approval earlier this month.
Mayor Satyendra Huja was not present at either the previous council meeting or the MPO meeting, but Szakos said she confirmed his support in a text message. He is traveling outside of the country.
The MPO also adopted, however, a federally mandated long-range transportation plan that still assumes the Western Bypass will be built. The document will be amended this summer after the Commonwealth Transportation Board decides whether to add the alternative projects to VDOT’s six-year improvement program.
Projects must be in both plans to proceed to construction.
The $203 million package includes a new southbound lane from U.S. 29 to the westbound U.S. 250 Bypass; a further extension of Hillsdale Drive; Berkmar Drive Extended; and construction of a grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and U.S. 29. There is also $10 million set aside to study an overpass at Hydraulic Road.
Additional funding would go toward expected cost overruns on adaptive traffic signals in the U.S. 29 corridor, a further extension of Hillsdale Drive Extended to Holiday Drive and $5 million toward a second daily Amtrak train from Lynchburg to D.C.
The MPO also formally requested that the CTB begin the process of selling off the bypass right-of-way.
Some members suggested that the proceeds could go to pay for additional transit projects.
“As far as the use of the funds, that would be for VDOT and the CTB to finalize,” Shucet said.
The CTB is expected to consider whether to add the projects to VDOT’s six-year improvement program at its meeting June 17-18.
If it decides to delay the vote, the projects might face a steeper hurdle to get added to the state’s priority list. New legislation that takes effect on July 1 will require the CTB to exercise more scrutiny when making decisions.
“Projects that are not fully funded in the six-year improvement program would be subject to a statewide prioritization process moving forward,” said John Lynch, administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, which includes the Charlottesville area.
The new law requires that all candidate projects or strategies for VDOT’s six-year improvement program must have a cost-benefit analysis conducted to determine how they impact congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality.
However, Lynch said in an interview, the process is still being developed and he could not say what would be required of the Hydraulic Road interchange for it to receive funding for construction.
Adoption of the long-range plan completes a planning process that began in January 2011. However, the MPO amended the plan in July 2011 to fully fund the cost estimate for the Western Bypass, to reflect the views of a previous Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
The new plan had to be updated by the end of this month, according to Federal Highway Administration rules.
Sarah Rhodes, transportation director for the local MPO, said there was not time to amend the long-range plan after it became clear in February that the bypass no longer had local or federal support.
“The current fiscally constrained project list reflects the status of regional transportation improvements prior to a decision from the CTB on the Route 29 Solutions process,” reads a disclaimer in the adopted plan. “Following the CTB’s vote, the MPO will likely need to amend its 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan. This amendment process would occur throughout July 2014.”
The plan also will be amended to reflect full funding for Berkmar Drive Extended if the CTB adopts Shucet’s recommendations.
During the long-range plan update, it had been assumed that private developers would pay for the road, but that is no longer the case, according to both Lynch and Rhodes.