At its first meeting of 2013, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board made several changes, including expanding its boundaries, adjusting its public hearing process and reorganizing its leadership.
The board’s five voting members selected Albemarle County Supervisor Duane E. Snow to serve as chairman for 2013. Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja is now the MPO’s vice chairman.
The MPO also adopted a new public participation plan which decreases the amount of public hearings required to adopt or amend its transportation improvement plan from two to one. However, adoption of the long-range transportation plan will still require two public hearings.
“Recently when we’ve had [the MPO] approve documents, there hasn’t been any comment on them and we’ve had to advertise for two public hearings, which can come out to cost $500,” said Sarah Rhodes, a transportation planner for the MPO. “It’s expensive without much benefit at getting input.”
The MPO also has expanded its boundaries to extend to Crozet as well as to Interstate 64’s eastern edge in Albemarle County. The group rejected a proposal to expand the MPO to portions of Fluvanna and Greene.
“There were choices of expanding it further than this, or expanding it at all, and we took the parts that were in Albemarle that we felt would benefit from being part of the MPO,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos.
The MPO also officially adopted an amendment to its transportation improvement program to reflect the increase in the cost estimate for a project to improve the ramp at the U.S. 250/Emmet Street interchange, otherwise known as the Best Buy ramp.
“Since this project was last updated in our TIP, it had some rather large cost increases primarily due to some additional items that have come into the project since that time,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “[They include] sound walls, retaining walls and the realignment of the sidewalks around the interchange.”
Those additions increased the project estimate from $4.7 million to $11.1 million.
During the public hearing for the item, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council made the claim that the cost estimate increased in order to provide a source of funds in case the area’s largest transportation projects need additional funds.
“We’re ultimately going to see a higher cost for the Western Bypass and this is the piggy bank that VDOT and the state are going to be looking to,” Werner said.
However, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, defended the cost estimate increase.
“The higher cost estimate is a worst-case scenario,” said Jim Utterback. “We hope [construction bids] will come in lower than that.”
VDOT currently shows advertisement for the project’s construction will be in November 2014.
The MPO also endorsed a request Charlottesville will make for an $80,000 transportation enhancement grant to help pay for a pedestrian bridge to connect the two sides of McIntire Park. The city will contribute $120,000.
The city has previously received two similar grants to design and construct the bridge, but this new request will be to ensure the structure is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We are connecting our communities by putting in this type of infrastructure,” said Russell “Mac” Lafferty, an Albemarle Planning Commissioner and non-voting member of the MPO.
Steve Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, also asked MPO members for their input on a presentation he will make to the Commonwealth Transportation Board at its meeting Feb. 20 in Richmond.
Williams said he wants to use the meeting to present the next round of large transportation items the MPO would ultimately like the CTB to approve. These include the widening of the U.S. 29/250 bypass, the reconfiguration of the I-64/U.S. 29 interchange, and a stable source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.