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Work continues to plan Hillsdale extension; changes to Greenbrier expected

As construction work begins to pick up on three separate — but related — projects on U.S. 29, the city of Charlottesville is reviewing and possibly altering plans for a fourth.

Last summer, the Commonwealth Transportation Board fully funded a $30.5 million project to extend Hillsdale Drive from Greenbrier Drive to Hydraulic Road. The long-awaited connector road was included in the larger $230 million Route 29 Solutions package created as an alternative to the now-defunct Western Bypass.

The Hillsdale project is the only one in the package to be overseen by the city under its Urban Construction Initiative. The other projects are under the purview of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The project has been under consideration for more than a decade and, despite being mostly in city limits, was an Albemarle County priority for many years. The project will provide a parallel north-south road to the east of U.S. 29 for local traffic.

The city held a design public hearing for the Hillsdale project in 2010.

The design shown at that time included a four-way traffic signal at Seminole Court and a roundabout at Zan Road, both in the area of Seminole Square shopping center. It also envisioned a second four-way traffic signal at Greenbrier Drive.

However, a recent traffic study might necessitate changes to that intersection, which is located entirely within Albemarle.

“The results of the analysis completed by the city and presented to VDOT indicates that a traffic signal is not warranted until 2038,” said Philip A. Shucet, a former VDOT commissioner hired to oversee implementation of all of the U.S. 29 projects.

Instead, the city is proposing that Hillsdale flow freely through the Greenbrier intersection and that traffic on Greenbrier be controlled by a pair of stop signs.

The news was unveiled at a recent stakeholder meeting for the Hillsdale Drive project.

The event was held concurrently with a regular meeting of a stakeholder group for the Route 29 projects, meaning Shucet could not attend. Neither could Albemarle Supervisor Brad Sheffield nor Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja.

City officials defended holding the two meetings at the same time.

“While Hillsdale is a portion of the Route 29 Solutions package, our stakeholder committee is focused on the details of Hillsdale while the Project Delivery Advisory Panel is overseeing the much larger picture of the projects,” said Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s Urban Construction Initiative program manager.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel attended the meeting in Sheffield’s absence. She said representatives of neighborhoods were concerned that an intersection without a traffic light would be unsafe for pedestrians.

“I would have preferred it if the city had let the county know that we had a problem with the signal because I don’t know how long they’ve know that,” McKeel said. “It would have been good if that could have been shared through Shucet’s panel.”

Another stakeholder said the news came as a surprise.

“Our position on the Hillsdale Drive extension has always been that we can and will support it as long as it is designed in a way to maintain or enhance safety,” said Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center.

Thompson said he had always expected a traffic light at the intersection and needs more information on why the decision might change.

“We believe if the change is made to take out the signalized intersection, safety will deteriorate,” Thompson said.

Shucet said no decisions have been made about the intersection.

“Rather than jump to a ‘traffic signal versus no signal scenario,’ I’ve asked VDOT to work with the city to better define the root concern,” Shucet said.

Charlottesville officials are currently negotiating with property owners along the alignment about purchasing land for the right of way. The city is expected to advertise for construction bids in December, with the work to begin in April.

Officials with Great Eastern Management Co., which owns Seminole Square, said they see the road as a way to breathe new life into their shopping center. One of the region’s Kroger stores will re-locate to the space once occupied by a Giant grocery store. However, the center also will lose about 10,000 square feet of existing commercial space to accommodate the new road.

In all, there are 22 property owners with whom the city is negotiating. Other large property owners include the U.S. Postal Service and Pepsi-Cola Bottling of Central Virginia.

Rio interchange lawsuit

In June, the parties involved in a federal lawsuit, which if successful, would have stopped all of the U.S. 29 projects from moving forward, voluntarily agreed to dismiss the case after Judge Norman K. Moon denied to grant a preliminary injunction.

VDOT officials said there are no current legal obstacles to completing any of the projects.

However, the owners of Albemarle Square and a Wendy’s Restaurant have retained the right to file the suit again.