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Costs increasing for city’s portion of adaptive traffic signal network
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by Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, September 03, 2014 at 7:44 p.m.

Charlottesville’s share of a next-generation network of intelligent traffic signals could cost five times as much as originally expected.

In February, the City Council agreed to reallocate $450,000 from other projects to upgrade traffic signals using Rhythm Engineering’s InSync technology, which adjusts lights in real time according to fluctuating traffic patterns.

“Their product is probably going to cost around $400,000, but there’s $1.6 million needed for fiber-optic lines, cameras and the upgrades to the intersections that has to go on,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.

Tolbert’s comments came Tuesday as part of an hour-long update on area road projects at the Charlottesville City Council meeting.

Earlier this year, former Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet was able to secure additional funding to upgrade 21 intersections in Albemarle County as part of the work approved for U.S. 29.

However, Shucet did not recommend additional funding to cover the city’s deficit.

At the meeting, the council voted 3-2 to agree in principle to pay for the difference, with details on how to do so coming at a later date.

Councilors Bob Fenwick and Dede Smith voted against authorizing the additional money.

“I was skeptical of this when I heard about it the first time, and I’m more skeptical of it now as the price keeps going up and up and up,” Smith said.

However, Councilor Kristin Szakos said she feels it is important for the city and county to both utilize the system to help traffic flow on U.S. 29.

“We will have this [system] going all the way up U.S. 29,” Szakos said. “I think it would be very frustrating to have it run smoothly and then stop and stop and stop.”

Tolbert said former city traffic engineer Jeannie Alexander will be hired to study how the adaptive system has worked in Lynchburg, where it was installed on the busy Wards Road corridor.

Belmont Bridge

The council also agreed to hire the Pittsburgh-based firm Urban Design Associates and Allison Partners of Charlottesville to work with MMM Design on a new round of plans for the Belmont Bridge.

Tolbert said UDA’s role will be to “make sure we get a better design for the bridge” and Allison Partners will facilitate the public input.

In June, councilors directed staff to proceed with a replacement bridge rather than an underpass. They also asked for an analysis from VDOT on whether portions of the existing structure could be reused.

“They’ve done the examination, they took material samples, and they’ve sent those to the research council at the University of Virginia,” Tolbert said. “We still haven’t gotten the results.”

A steering committee will be convened to help shepherd the latest design process, which will include at least two public meetings.

Hillsdale Drive

The city will continue to manage the $30.5 million Hillsdale Drive Extended project.

“We have submitted all of the right-of-way plans to [VDOT] and we should have heard by now the authorization to proceed,” Tolbert said. He said the purchase of land currently owned by the United States Post Office will be “huge” because negotiations so far have not worked out.

Tolbert recommended the council reallocate $1.1 million of local money that had been set aside to construct a small portion of Hillsdale adjacent to the new Homewood Suites.

“We had hoped when the hotel was being built that they were going to work with us and we were going to build it together,” Tolbert said.

“They chose not to do that for some reason.”

Councilor Kathy Galvin said she wants to instead use some of the money toward creating a small-area plan for the area around Hydraulic Road Extended.

“It’s not just going to be a road,” Galvin said. “It’s going to be a place where people work and where people live.”

However, the council agreed to reallocate the funding — and an additional $400,000 — toward several bridge repair projects in the city.

Parkway interchange

Tolbert also said construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway interchange is ahead of schedule and contractors will receive a bonus if they can substantially complete the project by Dec. 14.

“That doesn’t mean everything will be done, but it means we would have use of it,” Tolbert said.

At least one councilor has called for a roundabout to be installed at the nearby intersection of Harris Street and McIntire Road rather than the existing traffic signals.

Tolbert said he thinks the existing intersection will work when the parkway is fully open, but also recommended that the council fund a feasibility study to see if a roundabout would work. He said a study could be performed for less than $50,000.

“I’m all for doing a feasibility study but this would have to be working badly for me to want to tear it up again in the next five years, even though I love roundabouts,” Szakos said.

The council did not vote to pursue the roundabout analysis at this time because Fenwick requested more discussion to get input from business owners on Harris Street who might be affected.
 

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