The Charlottesville City Council has rebuffed a recommendation from its Planning Commission to move the grade-separated interchange of Hydraulic Road and Route 29 back onto the region’s long-range transportation plan. City Councilors on the MPO Policy Board recently placed the project on the “vision list” during consideration of the five-year update of the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM 2035). Projects on the “vision list” have no funding and no expectation that they will be started in the next twenty years.

Three corners of the Hydraulic intersection are in the City of Charlottesville. The NW corner in Albemarle, location of the 7-11 store, is the area of the mixed-use Albemarle Place development (Click for a bigger picture)

To clear up the conflicting recommendations, Mayor Dave Norris pulled Council’s endorsement of UNJAM 2035 from the consent agenda at the Council’s meeting on May 18, 2009. Both the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and City Council were required to approve the plan before it can be officially submitted to the Federal Highway Administration, the federal body that mandates each metropolitan area to produce a long-range plan. The MPO will hold a final public hearing on UNJAM 2035 at their meeting May 27, 2009 .

Norris wanted an explanation from Councilors Satyendra Huja and Julian Taliaferro about why they pushed the Hydraulic Road interchange to the vision list. The project, however, is one of six such grade separations on US 29 recommended in the County’s Places29 twenty-year Master Plan.  This project would involve lowering the elevation of US 29 to allow for the construction of an overpass to carry Hydraulic Road over the highway eliminating the traffic light for traffic on US 29.  The other intersections targeted for grade separation include Rio Rd, Airport Rd, Ashwood Blvd, Timberwood Blvd, and Hilton Heights.

“My opinion is that [Hydraulic] should be in the plan, but I’d be interested to hear what other Councilors think,” Norris said. “From a transportation utility standpoint, that intersection is a major clog in our machine and I think if we’re trying to ‘unjam’ our machine, that’s one project that should be considered.”

Huja said that too many City businesses would be affected by the construction of the interchange. He also cited the lack of funding for the project. Taliaferro said that was his recollection of the meeting as well. Councilor David Brown said that County businesses would not be affected and he didn’t want to send the “wrong message” to City merchants.

With the endorsement of Charlottesville City Council, the UNJAM 2035 plan will next be considered by the MPO at a final public hearing next week.