By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Newly elected members of the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

got their first opportunity to weigh in on the County’s

Places29 master plan

at a Wednesday work session.  Instead of making major changes, officials called for increased cooperation and coordination with the City of



Many of the projects called for in the Places29 plan affect both jurisdictions, including the extension of

Hillsdale Drive

and a second on-ramp leading from southbound U.S. 29 to the U.S. 250 Bypass.

Yet, one of Places29’s most controversial recommendations is to build

grade-separated interchanges at six key intersections

. One of those spots is at Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 where three corners are within Charlottesville city limits.

“It’s a common situation in any [metropolitan planning organization] that you have major projects that impact and concern more than one of the members,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Charlottesville


. “You always have to figure out how to get both members to be supportive of the same project.”

In the early 1990’s, Charlottesville, Albemarle and the University of Virginia entered into

an agreement that outlined the timing of road projects

. The first step was to widen U.S. 29, followed by the construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway. Next, grade-separated interchanges were to be built at Hydraulic, Greenbrier and Rio Roads. A western bypass of U.S. 29 would only be designed if those improvements did not sufficiently reduce traffic congestion. .

However, citing concerns on the impact to city businesses, the Charlottesville

City Council

voted against the Hydraulic interchange in January 1995. That prompted the

Commonwealth Transportation Board

to direct VDOT to begin designing of the bypass, invalidating the so-called “three-party agreement.”

Grade-separated interchanges resurfaced as part of a transportation study conducted by the MPO in the early 2000’s that later became incorporated into the Places29 Master Plan.  That plan does not include a Western Bypass and instead focuses improvements on parallel roads and on U.S. 29..

The Board discussed Places29 during a work session

At Wednesday’s Places29 work session, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) asked if the county should move forward with the Hydraulic interchange if the city did not support the project. David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the city supports the concept in theory, but wants to make sure the design has a minimal impact on businesses on those three corners.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said in an interview that he thinks many businesses along U.S. 29 are not supportive of the grade separated interchanges. Yet Norris said he personally supports the project.

“I’m convinced by urban planning types that there’s a good argument to be made for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic,” Norris said. He said the city’s hope of attracting high-quality redevelopment in the area around the Hydraulic interchange would depend on how it is designed.

“We have a vested interest in working with the county,” Norris said. “But there’s been fairly little engagement with the city in the Places29 process.”


Rodney Thomas

(Rio) said it was crucial that the city and county cooperate on the design of the interchange. Supervisor

Duane Snow

(Samuel Miller) said businesses along the U.S.  29 corridor need to play a larger role in the planning. No Supervisors spoke out directly against grade-separated interchanges during the work session.

“What our traffic numbers tell us is that all of those intersections will fail to the point where people will not be able to cross [U.S. 29] within any reasonable period of time, which then affects the businesses,” said

Wayne Cilimberg

, the county’s director of planning.


Ann Mallek

(White Hall) said she felt the design voted down by City Council in 1995 had too large an impact on the intersection.

“There are lots of ways to do this with small interchanges so it can be done within a minimum footprint,” Mallek said.

A section of the plans for a
Hydraulic Road grade-separated interchange developed by an engineer for
the Cox Company, the previous owner of the Albemarle Place

Late last year, the Board approved an official map for an interchange which would involve U.S. 29 lowered by about 25 feet through the intersection, allowing Hydraulic Road to remain at its existing elevation passing overhead. According to the Places29 Master Plan, the cost estimate for the project is around $40 million in today’s dollars.

“The devil is the design of that interchange and we haven’t gotten to that step,” Benish said to the board during the work session. “The intent for the finished project is to minimize the impact to adjacent properties to the interchange.”


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) said the current developer of

Albemarle Place

, Edens & Avant, is willing to develop and open the complex up even though they are aware that the construction of the nearby interchange could be disruptive.

“They set aside property for the grade-separated interchange,” Rooker said. “They’re not afraid of it.”

A representative from Edens & Avant told Charlottesville Tomorrow last October that Albemarle Place is being planned to be developed with or without a grade-separated interchange.

Cilimberg said the interchanges would also provide a way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross U.S. 29.

The Board will schedule a second work session, which is expected to include public input, before sending the Places29 master plan to a formal public hearing.


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