State transportation board transfers funds for Hillsdale Drive

RICHMOND — The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved the transfer of $9.7 million in additional funds for Hillsdale Drive Extended. 

That fully funds the current $13.8 million cost estimate for the Charlottesville road and completes a series of promises made by top Virginia officials in exchange for local support of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29. 
“We’ve made commitments to the community that we would fund certain projects and now we’re fulfilling them,” said Sean Connaughton, Virginia’s secretary of transportation. 
At their June meeting, the CTB fully funded the $14.5 replacement of the Belmont Bridge as well as a $7.7 million project to add a second lane on the west-bound on-ramp at the interchange of U.S. 29/250 and Emmet Street. 
The CTB also awarded in June a $136 million design-build contract to a team consisting of Skanska-USA and Branch Highways to build the bypass. 
Hillsdale Drive Extended was supposed to have been funded at that time, but VDOT officials said a mistake was made with the paperwork. 
“We had indicated we would bring it back to the board fully funded through a transfer process,” said Reta Busher, VDOT’s chief of programming and planning. 
The funding was reallocated from four projects elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Lynchburg District donated $ million, the Salem District donated $2 million and rest came from two projects in the Staunton District. 
James Rich, the Culpeper District representative on the CTB and an opponent of the bypass, said he would prefer projects such as Hillsdale be built rather than a new highway. 
“This will take as many cars off U.S. 29 as the bypass at much reduced costs,” Rich said. “Most of the traffic on U.S. 29 is local.” 
VDOT had previously estimated Hillsdale Drive would cost around $30 million. The estimate was lowered because it is assumed the owners of the Seminole Square Shopping Center as well as the owners of the Pepsi-Cola facility will donate right-of-way. 
Earlier this month, an attorney for Seminole Square told the Charlottesville Planning Commission that the road’s future may be in jeopardy if his clients’ concerns over potential flooding from the Stonefield development are not addressed. 
Engineers with Seminole contend a drainage basin over which Hillsdale will be built will flood following severely heavy rainfall because of Stonefield’s stormwater management plans. Edens’ attorneys deny the claim that there will be flooding. 
On Monday, the City Council upheld a determination by staff that Edens violated the terms of a city-issued erosion and sedimentation permit. 
In June, the city’s director of neighborhood development services said the design for the mile-long road was “very close to completion.” However, Jim Tolbert said Wednesday in an email that he is not sure if that is still the case.
“Our engineers do not see the same impact as [Seminole’s] engineers, but that is not what we reviewed for,” Tolbert wrote. “We have not addressed [flooding concerns] and we have not done enough analysis to determine at this time.”
Rich was not aware of the ongoing dispute. 
“I hope we can iron that out because I think that was a great part of the value of Hillsdale,” Rich said. “We had the private sector willing to buy in.” 
Another project that was promised by state officials was the widening of U.S. 29 to six lanes between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center. In July 2011, the CTB
transferred $32.5 million to the project. 
Opponents of the bypass have pointed out that the preliminary design shows only four-lanes on existing U.S. 29 between Polo Grounds Road and the northern terminus of the bypass. 
“My expectation was that the widening would start at Polo Grounds Road and continue to Hollymead Town Center, so that there would be a continuous six lane highway in that section,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
However, VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said a decision was made last fall to split the widening project into two parts and still accomplish the six-lane goal. 
“The segment of Route 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Ashwood Boulevard will be improved with the Route 29 Bypass project,” Hatter said. “It was determined that construction would be better coordinated.” 
Preliminary engineering on the one-mile portion between Ashwood Boulevard and Town Center Drive is expected to take place this year with construction slated for fiscal year 2015. 
Connaughton said all of these projects are investments in the area’s transportation infrastructure. 
“The Albemarle area has not seen significant transportation investment for some time and it’s the intention of the McDonnell administration to change this,” Connaughton said.