City, county planning commissions weigh in on long-range transportation

Regional planners want feedback from the Albemarle and Charlottesville planning commissions on a federally mandated blueprint for major transportation investments over the next few decades.

But commissioners said they are uncertain of their exact role in guiding the plan, which must be adopted by next spring.
“We wanted to know how suggested projects connect the plan to city and county comprehensive plan goals, but it sounds like they could not,” said Sarah Rhodes, a transportation planner at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
The district commission is two years into a three-year process to update the last plan, adopted in May 2009 and required by the Federal Highway Administration.
Planning staff presented two scenarios. Both include rebuilding the interchange of Interstate 64 and U.S. 29 and the widening of U.S. 29/250 from I-64 to the Barracks Road interchange .
“I found it hard to evaluate [the scenarios] because I don’t know how any of these projects were picked,” said Albemarle Commissioner Russell “Mac” Lafferty.
Commissioner Cal Morris, who represents Albemarle’s Rivanna District, opposes widening U.S. 250.
“Not one more foot of roadway needs to be built there,” Morris said.
Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Lisa Green said the process was too heavily skewed toward motor vehicles. 
“I feel like all I saw were road-widening projects,” Green said. “When you put in more lanes, you are not going to encourage people to ride bikes.”
Rhodes said the district planning commission can only provide data on how road projects and new transit routes will affect the transportation system. There is no easy mechanism to evaluate the effectiveness of new bike lanes and sidewalks.
“I don’t want to build roads just because that’s what we can model,” Green said. 
Roads will continue to be planned, Rhodes said .
Under both scenarios, planners project 88 percent of trips will be made by people driving a car. Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Genevieve Keller asked whether demographic shifts were taken into account.
“If younger people are going to drive less and we have an aging population, are we going to have fewer drivers?” Keller asked.
Both scenarios also call for a bridge across the Rivanna to alleviate congestion on U.S. 250 at Free Bridge, as well as a plan to dedicate lanes on U.S. 29 to transit and add sidewalks and bike lanes.
Some commissioners said they lacked sufficient information to evaluate the latter approach, which is known as “multimodal 29.”
“I hear a lot about multimodal but I want to make sure what it is, [and] if that’s the investment that we’re going to make, that it will work,” said Tom Loach of Albemarle.
Lafferty said two additional projects should be considered.
“I think we should look at grade-separated interchanges at Rio Road and Hydraulic Road,” Lafferty said. He added the interchanges would provide a safe way for cyclists and pedestrians to cross U.S. 29.
Rhodes said the plan assumed that a grade-separated interchange will be built at Rio by 2040, but that’s not being considered for Hydraulic.
City Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said such interchanges would be consistent with both Albemarle and Charlottesville’s comprehensive plans.
“One of the things these two commissions have contemplated has been how do you bring both sides of 29 together,” Rosensweig said.
Rhodes said the multimodal 29 concept does not address grade-separated interchanges partly because the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization‘s traffic model cannot measure their impact on the system.
Another county commissioner inquired about cost.
“There are a lot more projects out there than there is money, so I would want to see which projects provide the most bang for the buck,” said Don Franco.