The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors took the first steps Wednesday toward selecting projects the county will submit for funding to the Virginia Department of Transportation later this year.
“Smart Scale is a grant program that provides state and federal funds for design, engineering, right-of-way and construction of transportation projects throughout the state,” said Kevin McDermott, the county’s transportation planner.
The General Assembly passed legislation in 2014 that required VDOT to establish a process by which all projects would be ranked relative to each other on how well they address congestion, promote economic development and other metrics.
“Smart Scale was very successful for Albemarle County last [round],” said Joel DeNunzio, the administrator of VDOT’s Charlottesville office. “We had 11 projects in the Culpeper District, and five of those were in Albemarle.”
Those projects were: a $5.8 million roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 151 near Afton; a $4 million improvement at the intersection of Proffit Road and Route 20; a $18.4 million upgrade at Interstate 64’s Exit 124 at Shadwell to create a “diverging diamond” like the one at Zion Crossroads; a $2.9 million upgrade for an additional lane at Interstate 64’s Exit 118 at U.S. 29; and $3.8 million for a connector road between Rio Mills Road and Berkmar Drive Extended.
Despite making several applications, the county received no funding in the first year of Smart Scale.
This year, VDOT will take a third round of applications. Unlike in the past two rounds, localities with populations under 200,000 can only submit four projects.
“Last time, the county submitted eight projects, so we have to be really focused now on making sure we get our priority projects in there,” McDermott said, though the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization can submit four projects of its own.
McDermott said he would ask the board to make its decision on what county projects to submit by the end of May to make the final Smart Scale deadline of August.
One potential project would see improvements at the intersection of Route 20 and U.S. 250 just to east of Free Bridge.
“It was our No. 1 priority in the county,” McDermott said.
Another priority is to upgrade the intersection of Routes 20 and 53 near Piedmont Virginia Community College. Another would replace a traffic signal at the intersection of East Rio Road and Pen Park Road with a roundabout.
“This was something that VDOT’s traffic engineering team had looked at and came to us with,” McDermott said. “Improvements to that section of road have been a priority, but we didn’t know what to do. They looked at it and saw a roundabout could work.”
Another project would be to upgrade the intersection of Fontaine Avenue and U.S. 29.
“We’ve talked about the potential for a diverging diamond in that area that would improve the operations,” McDermott said.
That project would be near a Smart Scale project in Charlottesville that would improve the streetscape on Fontaine within the city limits.
Another potential project would be to purchase right-of-way for a park and ride on Pantops that would replace space in the Pantops Shopping Center that had been made available for that purpose. The Great Eastern Management Co. recently withdrew permission at the request of the Albemarle County Police Department.
Other options could include a realignment of Hillsdale Drive’s intersection with Rio Road, the extension of a shared-use path between Carrsbrook Drive and Polo Grounds Road and improvements to the intersection of Frays Mill Road and U.S. 29.
McDermott said the extension of the shared-use path could help build part of the Northtown Trail, a proposed pathway for commuters to either walk or cycle from Hollymead Town Center to downtown Charlottesville.
Another new rule is that any projects that utilize proffered road improvements from developers cannot be considered for Smart Scale. That means the county cannot submit the extension of Berkmar Drive Extended through to Lewis and Clark Drive because the University of Virginia Foundation agreed to build part of that road. McDermott said supervisors could vote to remove that proffer from the project.
McDermott also briefed supervisors on other transportation planning projects underway including an internal road network for the planned redevelopment of Southwood, the implementation of various projects funded through the neighborhood improvement funding initiative and a pedestrian link between Crozet and Charlottesville.
“There’s an advocacy group that we’re working with that’s looking to advance the Three Notch’d Trail project following the U.S. 250 alignment,” McDermott said. “I think ideally there has been talk about having a paved shared-use path that generally connects Crozet to the city but I think at this time it may be something like a walking path that would note the historical significance of that trail.”
McDermott has been on the job since summer 2016.
“We’re so glad we have a transportation person,” said board Chairwoman Ann H. Mallek.
The county is also working with the city to study potential new alignments for the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road. That project will likely also be included in a Smart Scale submission.
DeNunzio said he is hoping that several of the Smart Scale projects can be bundled together into one contract in order to save money.
However, a new roundabout at U.S. 250 and Route 240 in Crozet at Mechum’s Trestle will have to be a standalone project due to environmental issues at the site. That project was funded through VDOT’s Highway Safety Improvement Program.
“Crash data shows 28 crashes at this location over the past five years, 10 of which were injury crashes,” reads the application for the project.