The cost for a project to improve the interchange of U.S 29 and the U.S. 250 Bypass has increased from $7.5 million to $11 million to accommodate requests from residents to add a sidewalk and to build noise barriers.
“There are residences that are literally 20 or 30 feet away from the 250 Bypass on-ramp,” said Jim Chang, president of the Meadows Neighborhood Association, at a public hearing on the project’s design Tuesday. “From what I understood talking to the residents of that area, they very much want to see that noise barrier go up.”
Since 2007, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the city of Charlottesville have been planning to add one southbound lane on U.S. 29 between Hydraulic Road and the grade-separated interchange. This lane would continue up the on-ramp to the U.S. 250 Bypass, meaning there would be two lanes to handle large traffic volumes. This new lane would continue to Barracks Road.
One of the reasons stated for the project is to improve safety. There were 34 crashes in the vicinity of the Best Buy ramp between February 2006 and December 2008.
“This will improve the safety at the interchange location and also improve the efficiency of the interchange,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
“Right now we have a lot of rear-end collisions at the top of that ramp because there’s nowhere for anybody to merge,” said Mike Jacobs, VDOT’s project manager for the improvements. “Adding that additional lane all the way through to Barracks will give people more time to get up and get level with U.S. 250 and then weave and merge in.”
The sidewalk and noise barriers were added to the project as a result of feedback received at a public information meeting in June.
Hatter said the noise barriers could cost $2 million for about 3,000 feet of walls.
The sidewalk, which Hatter said would cost $1 million, would be built in the median of Emmet Street between Angus Road and Morton Drive.
“We looked at putting it on the west side, through the median and on the east side,” Jacobs said. “The study actually showed that the median would be the safest place to do that because it minimizes the conflict points, especially where we’ll be widening the Best Buy ramp from one lane to two.”
Not all attendees were enthusiastic about the sound barriers.
Jean Weeks owns a condominium in Cedar Court, which is on the southern side of U.S. 250. She said her neighbors are concerned about the potential for noise, as well as losing a portion of their backyards.
“[VDOT] has assured me that they are considering a noise barrier,” Weeks said. “We’re talking about a 20-foot wall. Obviously, we won’t have any kind of view, not that we have any great deal of one now.”
Vivian Chisolm uses the U.S. 250 Bypass on her commute home from Charlottesville. She said she is concerned about the second lane.
“It is sometimes difficult to get over to the far right to get off on the Barracks Road exit now,” Chisolm said. “With the extra traffic coming in and then merging into one lane there, the spacing of the vehicles, I thought, might be a problem.”
VDOT expects to advertise the project for bids in November 2014 with construction beginning in the spring of 2015. Some attendees Tuesday’s hearing were concerned the project would take that long.
“I think it’s a substantial improvement and it needs to be done soon, [but] I’m disappointed that VDOT took so long to do it,” said Albemarle County resident George Larie.
Hatter said it takes time to get a construction project under way.
“We have to go through the process of looking at the public comments and making any adjustments that might be made after this design public hearing,” Hatter said. “Once the design is approved, then we move into the right-of-way and utility relocation phase.”
VDOT will be taking comment on the project through Dec. 7.