The federal government has approved the next step for the $30.5 million extension of Hillsdale Drive, a key component in a series of projects designed to improve traffic flows in the U.S. 29 corridor through Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville.

The Federal Highway Administration has authorized city officials to begin the process of purchasing land for the extension, which will connect Greenbrier Drive to Hydraulic Road to complete a parallel road to U.S. 29 between Hydraulic and Rio roads.

“Everything is on track, and I anticipate we’ll start getting appraisals back around the first of the year,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Services Development.

“We hope to be under construction by the end of [2015],” Tolbert added.

The news was announced Thursday at the latest meeting of the Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel, a group formed to oversee implementation of $230 million worth of projects approved earlier this year after federal officials indicated they would likely not approve the Western Bypass.

On Oct. 2, VDOT will publish a request for proposals for three other projects — the $81 million Rio Road interchange, the $51 million widening of U.S. 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center, and the $54 million northward extension of Berkmar Drive.

The Hillsdale extension was not included in that request because the city of Charlottesville plans to manage it separately. Design work has already been completed, and the highway administration has already given its blessing.

All four projects are under a state mandate to be completed by the end of October 2017.

The RFP will include Albemarle County’s architectural review guidelines as well as suggestions from the Southern Environmental Law Center as to how the Rio Road interchange might look.

“We are going to use aesthetic barriers, we are going to be looking for treatments on the face of the [retaining] wall, and we are going to be looking for appropriate treatments on the bridge over Rio Road,” said Philip A. Shucet, a former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation hired to shepherd the so-called 29 Solutions projects.

VDOT’s intent is to award a contract next February to a single firm to design and build all three projects.

A draft construction schedule for all three projects indicates that no construction will begin until February 2016. Most of the work to be performed next year will involve design and permitting.

One highlight of Thursday’s meeting was the unveiling of a 16-second video rendering of how the grade-separated interchange at Rio Road will work.

Shucet said the video does not include landscaping or other features that will be built. Instead the rendering is intended to show people how the intersection would work when built.

Work to excavate the Rio Road intersection to allow four lanes of U.S. 29 to pass under Rio Road can only happen between May 23, 2016 and Sept. 2, 2016, officials have said. Night work outside of the intersection will begin before then.

The contractor will pay fines if the work on Rio takes any longer, Shucet said.

“The pain of not finishing is going to be much more severe than a few bucks,” Shucet said. “We’re putting our reputation on the line.”

Tolbert said there will be similar incentives to help persuade the contractor hired to build Hillsdale to complete the work in advance of the deadline.

VDOT engineers also showed the panel methods of how retaining walls can be piled into the ground before excavation occurs. That will allow digging to take place at night with the road covered up each morning.

Panelists have been asking for the widening project to include a multi-use trail on the eastern side of U.S. 29. Shucet said that remains a possibility, but there are issues to resolve, including a possible need to build larger retaining walls to avoid environmental impacts.

The multi-use path will not be included in the initial RFP, he said, but will be added in an addendum that will be published in early November.

A $17.2 million project to add additional lanes at the “Best Buy ramp” at the intersection of U.S. 29 and the U.S. 250 Bypass is scheduled to begin at some point next year. Shucet said the goal is to complete that project before work on the Rio Road intersection begins.

Because construction of Hillsdale will be concurrent with the other projects, VDOT plans to use the existing Berkmar Drive as a detour on the western side of U.S. 29. A temporary traffic signal and median cut has been planned for the intersection of Berkmar and U.S. 29.

The next meeting of the panel is slated for Oct. 9.

Video rendering of the planned grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and U.S. 29 from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.