Both the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Planning Commissions had the chance on April 14, 2009 to provide feedback on the regional transportation plan being updated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). The United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM) will be adopted by the MPO Policy Board in May and contains a list of projects that the community is planning to build over the next several decades. The list is required by the Federal Highway Administration as a way of ranking projects that the community would like to be eligible for funding.

“The plan is required for an area that has greater than 50,000 [residents],” said Melissa Barlow, Transportation Program Manager for TJPDC. “The plan must be updated every five years and we forecast the transportation investments over the next 20 years.”  The list is ‘fiscally-constrained’ which means that the cost estimates for projects desired by the community must be under the forecasted amount of $391 million for UNJAM 2035. Any projects that can’t fit on the fiscally constrained list go on a “vision list.”

UNJAM 2035 also features the community’s philosophical approach to transportation planning, as envisioned by the various citizens who make up the TJPDC’s transportation committees. The preamble to the document’s Regional Vision was changed and now begins with the phrase:  “The era of cheap oil is over.”

Barlow made her presentation first to the Albemarle County Planning Commission.  Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said she was surprised that the transportation elements called for in the draft Village of Rivanna Master Plan were not reflected in UNJAM 2035.

“Transportation is an enormous issue to the residents of that area,” Porterfield said. Barlow pointed out that UNJAM 2035 addresses the urbanized area under the jurisdiction of the MPO Policy Board and the Village of Rivanna Master Plan would be considered under UNJAM’s Rural Areas component which is currently under development.  Porterfield said she thought that was inconsistent with Albemarle County’s growth management strategy. She also pointed out that the Pantops Master Plan is not mentioned in the timeline of plans mentioned in UNJAM 2035. (However, there is a $42 million line item in the constrained list for various improvements called for in the plan under the line item I-11)

Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) said that he was on the CHART Committee when UNJAM was being updated. He called it an “excellent tutorial into transportation planning and from there it outlines the challenges the region itself faces in developing a transportation plan.”

Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) said he would make a motion to endorse the document but only if UNJAM were amended to include references to both master plans brought up by Porterfield.  The Commission agreed and voted unanimously to endorse an amended UNJAM 2035.

After the County presentation was over, Barlow traveled to City Council Chambers to give the same report to the City Planning Commission.  Commissioner Cheri Lewis asked Barlow how UNJAM 2035 would help those who  live in outlying counties travel to Charlottesville without using their cars. Barlow said the rural plan section of the document encourages those counties to consider developing transit in the long-term, as well as the creation of additional park and rides in key locations.

The first page of the constrained long range project list (CLRP) which contains a line item for a $50 million project to build a grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and US29

The most significant recommendation made by the City Planning Commission involved a major element of the Places29 Master Planning process. In December 2008 and January 2009 , the MPO Policy Board agreed to place a higher priority on building a grade-separated interchange at the Rio Road intersection on US29 over a similar interchange for Hydraulic Road.  The Rio Road project was moved, at the request of City Councilors, ahead to the fiscally constrained list, while Hydraulic was moved back to the vision list. Three of the four corners of the Hydraulic Road intersection are in the City of Charlottesville.  Albemarle County representatives supported the change indicating that improvements at Rio would be more pressing once the Meadowcreek Parkway opens in 2012.  The Southern Environmental Law Center urged at the time that both intersections be included among the shorter-term priorities.

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig, who serves on the MPO Technical Committee, said that at no point during that body’s deliberation was the idea of switching the two projects discussed.

“I’m kind of shocked to see [Hydraulic] removed from the list,” Rosensweig said. “I couldn’t recommend adopting [UNJAM 2035] without a strong recommendation that Council finds a way to move [Hydraulic] back onto the fiscally constrained list at the expense of something else.” He said that improving the Hydraulic Road interchange first would improve traffic flow at one of US29’s major choke points, and would connect major developments in both the City and the County.   He got support for this notion from Commissioners Farruggio, Osteen and Lewis, which was incorporated into the motion to recommend UNJAM 2035 for the City Council’s action.