The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are giving further review to a recommendation from the Albemarle County Planning Commission to stop using money from the Virginia Department of Transportation to pave gravel roads in the rural areas of the County. At a work session on the Six Year Secondary road plan held on January 9, 2008, the Board asked for more analysis from County staff on the relationship between paving and development rights.
The County does not currently know how much transportation funding it will receive from the state for the next year. Last year, it received just over $4.4 million, according to Juandiego Wade, the County’s transportation planner. Next year, the County is estimated to receive just over 5 million, though that number will not be finalized until the Commonwealth Transportation Board adopts a budget in the summer. Before that happens, the Board will approve an updated list of projects that will receive money from the fund now and into the future.
“The priority list of secondary road improvements is a list of projects that's much more expensive than what can be funded over the six year planning period for the VDOT six year secondary plan,” said David Benish, chief of planning for Albemarle County. In all, 22 projects are identified as priorities. A 23rd slot is reserved for paving projects in both the rural and development areas of the County.
For the last several years, only three projects have been allocated any funding: The Meadowcreek Parkway, safety improvements on Georgetown Road, and a new section of Jarman’s Gap Road in Crozet. Those projects will continue to accrue money for the next few years, but the remaining slots allow the County to specify what road projects have the community’s highest priority. For instance, a project to improve Proffit Road between US 29 and Baker-Butler Elementary is the first strategic priority after Georgetown Road Improvements.
Changes to the list year include moving up the Southern Parkway, adding a Fontaine/Sunset Connector, and the addition of a Berkmar Bridge project that would allow Berkmar Drive up to Hollymead Town Center. Projects are deleted when they are no longer deemed to have community support, as in the case of the Northern Free State Road, which is being suggested for deletion because of the possibility of using proffer money to help extend Berkmar.
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said the addition of the Berkmar project on the list would have important symbolic value.
"I think putting it on our priority list doesn't mean it's actually going to get funded because we know we don't have enough money but it might signal to the developer community and to VDOT how high of a priority we're putting on having that parallel road system completed,” Slutzky said.
Supervisor (Samuel Miller) said the Fontaine/Sunset Connector would help alleviate traffic congestion in the area of the County that is just south of the University of Virginia.
Other changes to the strategic priority list include the addition of the Main Street extension project for Crozet and intersection improvements along Route 29 at Hydraulic and Greenbrier Roads. Again, David Benish said most of these projects would be paid for using proffers. All bridge improvement projects will now be listed under one category, placed on the draft priority list at number 10.
Most of the discussion at the January 9 work session centered on the Planning Commission’s recommendation to stop paving rural roads, unless there’s an overwhelming safety issue.
Every county in Virginia is allocated money through VDOT for the paving of unpaved roads according to a formula. If a county decides instead to spend this money on other road projects, VDOT will penalize the County in future allocations for rural paving. The Commission had recommended taking the penalty because paving roads in the rural area is inconsistent with the County's Comprehensive plan.
Benish said County staff has not yet calculated how much the rural paving fund allocation would be reduced if the County were to use paving funds on other projects. Allan Sumpter, director of VDOT's Charlottesville residency, said he thought the penalty would amount to about $200,000.
“And to kind of quantify that to you in terms of roadwork, would amount to about one rural rustic road," Sumpter said.
In response to a question from David Slutzky, Sumpter said funding for paving projects could be used to pave gravel roads in the development area without incurring a penalty. But that wouldn't go very far, according to Benish, because most of the County's unpaved roads are in the rural area, with the exception of Dickerson Road and Rio Mills Road, which are on the cusp of the growth area.
Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said he did not agree with the view of the Planning Commission.
“Every rural road that I know in my district that has been done for safety issues and that's the predominant reason why we do it, because there's safety issues and in particularly because of school buses,” Boyd said. “We like to talk about all the things we don't want to do in the rural areas to prevent growth out there, but we'll run a school bus up the smallest little dirt road that we can find.”
David Slutzky pointed out that the Planning Commission did acknowledge a need for rural paving for safety issues, but that it would come with a cost. He specifically mentioned Fox Mountain Road and other roads in the northwest quadrant of the County.
“I guarantee you that the day that those roads get paved, particularly Fox Mountain Road going over the mountain to 810, you will see a whole bunch of development activity going on that road,” Slutzky said.
Supervisor Dorrier asked if those kind of roads could be paved under VDOT's Rural Rustic program. That program allows a slightly lesser standard of road to be built, but VDOT’s Allan Sumpter said not many would qualify.
"Part of the rural rustic program, that's one of the requirements of it, and, it says, I'll read directly: The County Board indicates growth and traffic generated by the land are not expected to increase significantly over the next ten years,” Sumpter said.
Supervisor Boyd repeated his concern that the Planning Commission’s recommendation would penalize the County, and would add to more paving requests from citizens going unanswered. For instance, he pointed to Doctor’s Crossing road, which is ranked third on staff’s draft list of Regular Paving priorities, at a cost of over $1.8 million. Construction isn’t scheduled until August of 2011.
“I look on [the draft list] and I see as an example Doctor’s Crossing Road. I can tell you I’ve been out there to talk to those people many times over the last four years and their request,” Boyd said. “If we’re going to say, we’re not going to pave Doctor’s Crossing because we don’t think that, it’s, you know, there’s issues there, then we need to be upfront about it and say you’re being removed because you’re in the rural area and you don’t deserve paving.”
Boyd asked staff to suggest criteria that could be used to help determine when paving projects should be taken off of the list. Slutzky said he would be having some measurements taken to help County leaders make decisions about strategic paving priorities.
“It might be useful to get some sense of where the greatest density of development potential is on one road versus us another, not in the entire county, but if we’ve got say, the top ten roads,” Slutzky said. “Maybe just for those roads we should look to make sure we don’t have any inadvertent instances where we’re proposing to pave a road that’s going to invite a bunch of development.”
Deputy County Executive Tom Foley said staff would be able to perform that kind of analysis in advance of the public hearing, which had been scheduled for February. Supervisor Boyd said he thought another work session would be necessary to review that work before proceeding.
Supervisor Thomas reminded her colleagues and staff that it has been the goal of the County since 1980 to discourage the suburbanization of the rural points of the County.
“And having a nice paved road is every body’s definition of suburban type of road and development,” Thomas said. “I think the planning commission is kind of taking us to task for letting that happen, and I think Ken is absolutely right, if we want to remind the public that that’s not our policy to suburbanize the rural area, we ought to perhaps make it a strong policy.”
The Board will hold a second work session on the issue in February, with more input from staff. After the second work session, a public meeting will be held at the Board’s night meeting on March 12.