Although the Virginia Department of Transportation recently made changes to the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29, this isn’t the end of the long and winding road toward finding a way to unlock the periodically jammed crossroads.

As of the most recent traffic count, in 2018, about 28,000 vehicles traveled on Hydraulic Road between the U.S. 250 Bypass and U.S. 29. A substantial portion of the westbound motorists turn left from Hydraulic onto southbound U.S. 29, and, in the previous configuration, that traffic “would often fill up the turn lane and stack into the through lane, causing delays for motorists and increasing the risk of crashes,” said Will Merritt, communications coordinator for VDOT’s Culpeper District.

The adjustments made in February

  • Added two left-turn lanes for westbound traffic on Hydraulic turning left onto southbound U.S. 29.
  • Converted the farthest right-turn lane into a continuous turn lane through the installation of plastic guidance poles and a marked lane shift on northbound U.S. 29. Traffic only needs to stop in that lane if a pedestrian is crossing.
  • Changed the other right-turn lane to allow for drivers to turn right onto northbound U.S. 29 or continue straight.

“The new traffic pattern on westbound Hydraulic Road at [U.S.] 29 was a low-cost, interim operational improvement for one segment of the intersection,” Merritt said. “A larger project is still needed to address this intersection as a whole.”

The overall plan has failed more than once in Richmond. In 2019, officials resubmitted plans for an overhaul at the Hydraulic intersection and surrounding streets to VDOT’s Smart Scale scoring system. The proposals, which did not get funding in the round for fiscal year 2020, ranged from about $86.7 million for a grade-separated interchange at U.S. 29 and Hydraulic to more than $187 million that included a slate of supporting projects.

The Hydraulic-29 plan includes:

  • An overpass with bicycle and pedestrian facilities carrying Zan Road from Hillsdale Drive in Seminole Square Shopping Center in Charlottesville to District Avenue in Albemarle County’s Stonefield.
  • A southward extension of Hillsdale Drive to westbound U.S. 250 Bypass.
  • An overpass with bicycle and pedestrian access connecting Angus Road to Hillsdale Drive with ramps to Emmet Street.
  • An extended left-turn lane from eastbound U.S. 250 Bypass to Hydraulic Road.

The main project at Hydraulic and U.S. 29 would create an underpass on Hydraulic and a way for cyclists and pedestrians to get across U.S. 29. Left turns from Hydraulic to U.S. 29 in either direction would be made by proceeding through the intersection and making a U-turn at roundabouts at Hillsdale Drive and District Avenue. Traffic on U.S. 29 in both directions would have dedicated right- and left-turn lanes onto Hydraulic.

As the recent changes may not be permanent, Tiger Fuel President Gordon Sutton, who owns property at the intersection, has his eye on the interchange project and its roundabouts. 

“The broader changes, I think, will be an improvement,” Sutton said. “I think that intersection is a tough one now, and I think the proposals that VDOT has put together is something we view favorably.” 

As with most adjustments to thoroughfares, Sutton said he recognizes the impact a construction process will have on the already congested roadway, but he is looking forward to the potential positives from the work.

“I’m sure it will be disruptive when it happens, but we think long-term, those roundabouts are a good idea,” Sutton said. 

Some of the other property owners at the intersection are a bit more uncertain on the proposed changes. A developer, speaking on behalf of commercial retail property owners around the intersection, said they often have a fear of the unknown on what impact construction or major changes can have on businesses.

In the weeks since the reconfiguration, some minor tweaks have been made. Recently, the lanes were restriped again so that the left through lane on westbound Hydraulic no longer becomes a dedicated left-turn lane at U.S. 29. No further changes are in the works for the near future, Merritt said. 

”Motorists are still adjusting to the new pattern but traffic flow at the intersection has improved since the changes were implemented,” Merritt said.

As for the overall project, members of the Hydraulic Planning Advisory Panel last May indicated support for moving forward with the Zan Road overpass, according to The Daily Progress. There is leftover money from the U.S. 29-Hydraulic Road preliminary engineering budget and Hillsdale Drive extension project that potentially could fund a portion of the overpass, according to The Progress.

Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said that the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, which plans long-range projects, has until April to make a decision on whether to express intent to apply for the next round of Smart Scale funding. Application are due in August, Boyles said Friday.

At noon Friday,  several stakeholders were slated to meet at TJPDC to talk about the Hydraulic-29 projects.

“Zan Road remains a priority for both Albemarle County and the MPO,” he said. “Today’s discussion will provide details of its applicability and possible other Hydraulic projects.”