The eventual construction of a 2.3-mile northern extension of Berkmar Drive passed a major milestone Wednesday when the Commonwealth Transportation Board endorsed one of three potential alignments.
“That means we know now the general location of where the Berkmar project will be,” said Philip A. Shucet, a former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation who is overseeing implementation of the so-called Route 29 Solutions projects.
Shucet said Wednesday’s action means that VDOT will be able to determine what land needs to be purchased for the road, which is a key element of the package of projects.
“Alternative A reduces environmental impacts, avoids the only residents on the alignment, and it takes advantage of some existing state-owned and county-owned right of way,” Shucet said in a phone interview.
Alternative A also was the overwhelming choice of members of the public who attended a location hearing for the road in mid-September. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors endorsed the route earlier this month.
The other two alignments up for consideration traveled through areas that are environmentally sensitive. An archaeological study of Alternative C turned up possible sites where prehistoric human activity occurred.
VDOT will purchase enough land to build a four-lane road, but Berkmar Drive Extended will only be built to two lanes at first. Bike lanes and a multiuse path will be built as part of the project.
The idea to extend Berkmar Drive is a key element of the Places29 Master Plan. The goal is to divert local traffic from U.S. 29 by giving motorists more options to travel north or south.
Charlottesville officials are overseeing the extension of Hillsdale Drive within city limits. That project also received additional funding through the Route 29 Solutions project, but it will not be part of the same design-build contract.
City officials have begun the process of purchasing right-of-way. Jim Tolbert, director of the city’s neighborhood development services department, told the Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel in September that he thinks the road will be under construction by the end of 2015.
VDOT has set a goal of having Berkmar Drive Extended completed by October 2017. The $81 million grade-separated interchange of Rio Road at U.S. 29 and the widening of U.S. 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center also are to be completed by then. However, there are financial incentives in the design-build package to encourage the Rio Road interchange to be completed by the fall of 2016.
Three teams of engineering firms are competing to be chosen to design and build the first phase of the Route 29 Solutions package. The CTB is expected to select a firm in February.
VDOT held a design public hearing for the Berkmar extension, the widening of U.S. 29 and the Rio Road interchange on Tuesday. The agency is taking comment on the three projects between now and Oct. 24 at www.Route29solutions.org.