By

Kurt Walters


Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, January 23, 2012

Albemarle County supervisors have expressed frustration over the lack of tangible progress on the

interchange project of U.S. 250 and 29

after the

city transferred management of the effort to the state

.






Photo: The Daily Progress – Used by permission


The project, also known as the “

Best Buy ramp

,” was handed off to the Virginia Department of Transportation last year with the intention of expediting its construction, but county leaders say that progress seems as distant as ever.

“[We’re] pulling our hair out because every time you talk to VDOT they add on two or three more years — it was like 2014 or something like that,” said Supervisor

Ann H. Mallek

. “I don’t know what we can do to light a fire under them. They got completely distracted by the whole Meadow Creek Parkway [project].”


James Rich

, the area’s

Commonwealth Transportation Board

representative who spearheaded the project’s transfer, said that the prospect of a quicker completion was his main motivation.

“It was a way to expedite it,” said Rich. “We were just kind of stuck in neutral.”

Tentative projections by VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter estimate that the project would be advertised to bidders in late 2014, with construction starting the following spring. When the city had management of the project it forecast that construction would be completed by June 2015.

Supervisor

Dennis S. Rooker

said he is not pleased that the

transfer of project management

has not seemed to move the construction date forward.

“It’s like we had this discussion in April and here we are now eight months later and I’m not sure we’ve gained any ground in that eight months,” said Rooker.

Hatter also said that there have been no unordinary delays in this project, but cited several time-consuming steps that must occur before construction, such as traffic studies, design creation and relocating utilities.

“There’s a process that we have to go through,” Hatter said. “All this takes time.”

Rich also noted that, after studying traffic patterns, the project will be much more involved than originally planned, to ensure that the project is “something that actually works” in reducing congestion and doesn’t introduce any new safety issues.

City, county and state officials all agree that the current interchange is a major source of traffic congestion along U.S. 29 and a top priority, with Rich calling it “No. 1 on virtually everybody’s list.”

The improvement project would contain an additional southbound lane on 29 from Hydraulic Road to the interchange, an extra lane on the interchange ramp and an added acceleration lane on the 250 Bypass from the interchange to the Barracks Road exit.

[

see map

]

The city agreed to transfer the project to VDOT, but Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones included three conditions in his June 2011 letter authorizing the switch: to use existing right of way as much as possible before looking at seizing more; to hold more meetings and public input sessions than required; and to present the designs to the City Council once they are completed.

Rich said that the state would aim to satisfy these requirements, but that they were not legally binding.

“It’s something we’re aspiring to,” he said.

Rooker wondered at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting whether these conditions were “problematic” and holding up the project.

Rich said the conditions haven’t affected the speed of the project and added that the timeline would become clearer by the end of February, when the results of traffic analysis and research will come in and VDOT can begin to draw up design plans for the interchange.

County officials had wanted to coordinate the timing of the Best Buy ramp project with the construction of an extra southbound lane on 29 between Greenbrier Drive and Hydraulic Road. County Executive Tom Foley characterized the chances of that happening as “slim” — the lane is set to begin construction in about three months

The lane was part of a proffer from the developers of Stonefield, who also proffered $1 million toward the Best Buy ramp.

Rich suggested that acceptance might be the best response to distant construction dates.

“Nothing is fast when you do roads anymore — especially in [Charlottesville-Albemarle],” Rich said.

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