By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, March 21, 2011

Motorists traveling south on U.S. 29 often experience long waits to access the U.S. 250 Bypass, leading to congestion during peak driving times.

“You have the basic problem of too much traffic using a roadway that doesn’t have enough capacity,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The city of Charlottesville’s

2007 Comprehensive Plan

identifies the capacity limit at the intersection as a major reason for congestion on its portion of U.S. 29.

“Congestion on Emmet Street is largely due to the high traffic volumes, lack of access management and the merge onto the U.S. 250 Bypass westbound from southbound U.S. 29,” the plan reads. “Currently, improvements to the ramp from U.S. 29 onto the bypass are being explored to improve traffic flow in the area.”

Now those improvements are set to move forward. The city is administering a project that would add an additional southbound lane from Hydraulic Road to the interchange, a second ramp leading up to the U.S. 250 Bypass near the Best Buy and a third lane on the bypass that would extend to the Barracks Road exit. The preliminary cost estimate is $4.7 million.

The city has saved up $4.2 million in state and federal funds to implement the plan, but a final design must be produced before construction can begin.

The TJPDC manages regional transportation planning through the

Metropolitan Planning Organization

. In 2010, the MPO requested a $517,000 earmark through former Congressman Tom Perriello to pay for the final design, but it did not make it through the federal budget process.

However, engineering work has proceeded anyway. An engineering survey of the area is completed, according to Angela Tucker, the city’s development services manager.

“The plan is to complete the design work in fiscal year 2013 and complete construction in fiscal year 2014,” City Manager Maurice Jones said in an email.

Some of the money to pay for final design could come from a $1 million proffer the city is to receive from

Edens & Avant

, the developer of the

Stonefield

mixed-use center in Albemarle County. (The center was formerly known as Albemarle Place.)

“We’ve conducted all the work that we can without having all the funding in place,” Jones said. “We’re now just waiting for the funding to come together, including the $1 million proffer and the $500,000 local match, before we move forward with design and construction.”

In 2009, the Virginia Department of Transportation estimated that an average of 51,000 vehicles travel through the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 250.

Stonefield, which will include the area’s first IMAX movie theater, will add more traffic at both the interchange and on U.S. 29.

A separate project would see a fourth southbound lane from Westfield Road to Hydraulic Road, but that project will be administered by VDOT and paid for through another proffer connected to the original rezoning for Stonefield.

County Supervisor

Dennis S. Rooker

said he feels the project is important for the entire region.

“This improvement has been judged by the city and the county through the MPO to be perhaps the most important project in the area,” Rooker said. “My concern is that if the city doesn’t move to utilize those funds they could end up being lost to the area.”