By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Less than a month after the Virginia Department of Transportation

unveiled its plans for the U.S. 29 corridor

, a local solution to the traffic congestion at U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road has resurfaced before planners in Albemarle County.  At their meeting Tuesday night, engineering plans for a grade-separated interchange were reviewed by the Planning Commission as part of the process to establish right-of-way boundaries around the future Albemarle Place development.

Download the plan developed by the Cox Company

Cox Company design for a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic and U.S. 29

(Click for a higher resolution image)

One corner of the Hydraulic Road intersection is in the county at the current location of a 7-Eleven store.  The other three corners are all in the

City of Charlottesville

.  When the county approved the mixed-use

Albemarle Place

development in 2003, it required the Cox Company to submit a design for the interchange in order to identify viable building locations in the development area behind the 7-Eleven store.

VDOT and Albemarle County have been reviewing the interchange design plans since late 2006. In an interview, Jack Kelsey, the county’s transportation engineer, said more design work would be required prior to construction.

“This has not been accepted as a final design, but for the purposes of adopting an official map, it provides the necessary information,” said Kelsey.

The Planning Commission recommended adoption of an “official map” that shows which parcels of land the county would need to ask be reserved in order to prepare for construction of a grade-separated interchange. No similar process is currently underway to reserve right-of-way in the city.

David Benish, Albemarle County’s Chief of Planning, said approval of the map does not indicate approval of the interchange itself.

“It’s just to establish the amount of land which may be necessary for such an improvement,” Benish said.

The interchange, which was designed by the Cox Company, is known as a “single point urban interchange.” During construction, U.S. 29 would be lowered by about 25 feet allowing for Hydraulic Road to be rebuilt overhead at its existing elevation. According to the

Places29 Master Plan

, the cost estimate for the project is around $40 million in today’s dollars,.

This design is consistent with what is envisioned in the Places29 Master Plan,” said Kelsey.

The plan has also convinced VDOT and the County that at least three lanes of through traffic would be kept open in each direction during construction, a condition required by VDOT according to Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development.  However, Graham said in an interview that the compromise made to achieve that goal was that the Hydraulic Road crossover would have to be closed during construction.

The official map has to be adopted by the

Board of Supervisors

before the end of this year or the requirement that the developer reserve right-of-way would expire. Proffers signed at the time of the rezoning also require the developer, now Edens & Avant,  to “diligently pursue approval of the plans in the City.”

(Click for larger image)

However, VDOT’s corridor-wide study of U.S. 29, released last month, recommended a much different approach for moving traffic on and off the U.S. 29/250 Bypass. Their study proposes an elevated road starting north of the Hydraulic intersection and passing over the Kroger grocery store and other city businesses. This “flyover concept” known as the 250-Hydraulic Connector remains in the study’s recommendations, despite the removal late last week of two other local proposals, the Leonard Sandridge Road extension and the so-called “eastern bypass” along Albemarle’s border with Louisa County.

“Given the fact that the corridor study eliminates the grade-separated interchange and replaces it with a flyover concept, that changes the dynamic there,” said Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services.

Tolbert called the Cox design nothing more than a concept, and said the city continues to have concerns that too many of its businesses would be impacted by the construction. No funding has been dedicated to the interchange nor is any expected to be available in the immediate future from the state transportation budget.

In May, City Council

overruled the recommendation of the city’s planning commission

to put the Hydraulic interchange back in the region’s long-range transportation plan.  Council indicated its priority was for the Hydraulic Road interchange be built only after one is constructed in Albemarle at the intersection of  Rio Road and U.S. 29.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the right-of-way map at their meeting on December 2nd. Next Tuesday, the Albemarle County Planning Commission

will hold a public hearing on the Places29 Master Plan

at 6:00 PM in Lane Auditorium at the County Office Building.


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