State transportation panel to vote on Charlottesville streetscape projects
Three projects to reconfigure some of Charlottesville’s entrance corridors are expected to be funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Tuesday.
Streetscapes for East High Street, Emmet Street and Fontaine Avenue are among 104 projects that went through the first round of Virginia’s new process for transportation funding.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty historic vote tomorrow,” Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s transportation secretary, said Monday.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed HB2 in 2014. The legislation requires all projects to be ranked according to how they relieve congestion, address safety concerns and encourage economic development.
The goal is to take politics out of transportation project funding.
“When I got elected and inaugurated, we inherited several problem projects that we had to fix,” McAuliffe said. “We decided that there is a better way to do this. With HB2, [politics] are now out.”
McAuliffe cited a now-defunct $1.4 billion project to build a new section of a U.S. 460 project that had been championed by the previous administration. The project had been accelerated despite warnings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it would not grant a permit to disturb nearly 600 acres of wetlands.
“When you look at it now, it’s all data-driven and done by metrics,” McAuliffe said. “Does [the project] have an economic development component? How are the environmental issues? How are the land use issues? These are what [transportation] decisions should be made on.”
The Charlottesville streetscape projects competed with others in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.
“Compared to other projects in Culpeper District, these projects had a higher benefit score and relatively low cost, resulting in a higher overall rank than other projects in the district,” said Nick Donahue, the assistant secretary of transportation.
A streetscape project for Sunset Avenue in Albemarle County did not make the cut, nor did a long-planned project to widen a section of Proffit Road.
A $146 million project to reconstruct the interchange of U.S. 29 and Interstate 64 ranked near the bottom.
The Charlottesville streetscapes will be added to VDOT’s Six Year Improvement Program. All three must be completed within that timeframe and all three will fulfill part of the city’s Streets That Work initiative.
The East High Street project has a total cost of $5.6 million, including $688,000 for preliminary engineering and $ million to purchase right of way. Another $3 million would be spent on construction.
The project would span between East High and Locust Avenue.
“Proposed improvements include widening sidewalks, landscaping with street trees, intersection improvements for better [Americans with Disabilities Act] and pedestrian access, bike lanes, stormwater quality features, improved way-finding signage, signal upgrades for better efficiencies and enhanced access to existing mass transit facilities,” reads the application for the project.
The East High streetscape is within the city’s Strategic Investment Area and an initial concept was developed by the firm Cunningham & Quill as part of the SIA plan.
The Emmet Street project has a total estimate of $12.2 million, with $1.2 million of that going toward design. Just over $4 million would be spent on right of way and $6.9 million would be spent on construction. This streetscape would span from Ivy Road to Arlington Boulevard.
According to the application, a shared-use path would be built on the east side of Emmet Street, separated by a 5-foot-wide grass and tree buffer. Bike lanes would be added to the road in both directions.
“Emmet Street has large underutilized surface parking lots abutting the road [that are] suitable for development,” reads the application.
The Fontaine Avenue project has a total cost of $11.7 million and would span from city limits to Jefferson Park Avenue. A tenth of the budget covers preliminary engineering, another $3.7 million would pay for right of way and $6.8 million would go to construction.
The Fontaine Avenue project is based on a 2005 study conducted by the Renaissance Planning Group. That work was conducted after VDOT’s plans to widen Fontaine to three lanes were rejected by citizens and the City Council.
Currently, Fontaine Avenue has a 50-foot right of way that includes two travel lanes, on-street parking, a 4-foot-wide sidewalk on the southern side of the road and non-continuous bike lanes. More than 11,000 vehicles use the road each day.
“We believe the project will preserve the character of the neighborhood, as well as improve the quality of life for the residents,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Proposed improvements include building two turn lanes, bike lanes on both sides of the street, a 5-foot-wide sidewalk and at least one “rapid-flash beacon” to allow pedestrians to cross the street.
There is no timeline for when the projects would get underway.
“These projects will still be required to follow normal project development procedures, including preliminary engineering, public review and environmental review,” Donahue said. “Should a project be canceled, the remaining funds would be returned to the commonwealth and distributed in future rounds of the prioritization process.”
Ikefuna said more staff will be hired to help oversee the three HB2 projects.
“We will also be using project management firms/on-call consultants to handle some aspects of the projects once we have full scope of work,” Ikefuna said.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board will begin its meeting at 8:30 am Tuesday at VDOT’s Richmond headquarters.