By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, December 3, 2009

For years,

Albemarle County

and the

Virginia Department of Transportation

have been planning to add sidewalks and bike lanes on

Jarmans Gap Road

in western Albemarle County. Those improvements are anticipated in the

Crozet Master Plan

, which was adopted five years ago to address how that community would grow.









An excerpt from the

brochure handed out at VDOT’s March 2006 design public hearing

(Source: Albemarle County/VDOT)


However, rising cost estimates and decreased funding from the state have repeatedly pushed back the project’s start date. The delays could continue if the county cannot close what VDOT officials say is a $900,000 gap that must be filled before the project can be put out to bid.


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In 2004, Jarmans Gap Road had a traffic count of 2,500 vehicles per day. That number is expected to grow to at around 5,800 by 2020.

Earlier this decade, County officials made the project a priority in order to support development in Crozet. Ever since, a portion of the county’s share of secondary road funds have gone into a fund to pay for the road’s design and construction. Currently there is a balance of $12.6 million in the fund, according to Allan Sumpter, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.

When a design public hearing was held on the project in March of 2006, the project’s cost was estimated at $10.3 million. By October of this year, that estimate had climbed to $16 million.

Next week, the

Commonwealth Transportation Board

will vote on a $850 million reduction in funding for the state’s six-year road improvement plan. Nearly $7 million in funding is slated to be reduced from the Jarmans Gap project through 2015.

Sumpter said he has been carefully monitoring financing for the project in order to build what he called an “insurance buffer” against the increasing estimates and anticipated funding cuts. He said if the county had actually received the full amount in the six year plan, the project would have a $3.5 million buffer today.

In October, the County was awarded $1 million from VDOT’s revenue sharing program because it put up $1.1 million of its own money. That leaves a $900,000 gap, according to Sumpter.

Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) said VDOT should put the project out to bid now in order to take advantage of the recession. He said contractors are dramatically reducing the price of their bids in order to find work.

“We may be able to obtain a bid that in and of itself would be $900,000 less than the estimate,” Rooker said.

However, Sumpter said VDOT policy is to require projects to be fully-funded before they can be allowed to proceed to construction. The first step in that process is to ask for bids from contractors.

Rooker said VDOT should consider changing its policies.

“In the current climate, that approach is ridiculous,” Rooker said. “The policy made more sense during a time of inflation and right now we’re in a time of deflation.”

Sumpter said VDOT’s policies are in place to make sure that contractors can be paid. He said VDOT had previously allowed projects to be debt financed, but the agency was paying too much in debt service.

“We just have to make sure we have the money in the bank,” Sumpter said.

VDOT policy also doesn’t allow a project to go to bid until all right of way has been cleared for a road project. Sumpter said all of the required properties should be cleared by early summer and it will take another six months of administrative work before the project can be advertised for bidders.

One of the County’s other active secondary road projects, its portion of the

Meadowcreek Parkway

, is under construction with an anticipated completion date of fall 2011. Faulconer Construction won an $11.8 million bid for the project, which Sumpter said was lower than had been anticipated for construction.

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