Officials with the Metropolitan Planning Organization will seek input Wednesday on the latest transportation plans for the CharlottesvilleAlbemarle area.

The public is invited to a workshop on the long-range transportation plan to be held at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s offices on Water Street in Charlottesville.

“We would like the people to come and learn about the 2040 long-range plan process,” said Sarah Rhodes, director of transportation programs for the MPO.

The MPO staff is two years in to a three-year process to update the plan, which is an attempt to look three decades into the region’s future to plot out future transportation needs, including roads, bus routes, sidewalks and bike lanes.

The federally mandated document must be “fiscally constrained,” which means it can only include projects that are slated to receive federal funding.

The last plan, known as the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan, was adopted in May 2009. MPO officials want the update completed by the spring.

UNJAM 2035 contained 51 projects ranging from $7 million in roadway improvements at Fontaine Avenue to $3.8 million to pave Dickerson Road in Albemarle County. But, the document is not set in stone.

The plan can be changed at any time if local officials decide to change course on any one transportation plan.

For example, UNJAM 2035 initially did not include the $244 million Western Bypass of U.S. 29 but was amended by the MPO in July 2011 after the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated additional funding to the project.

Groups opposed to the bypass have invited their members to attend tonight’s meeting to ask that the bypass project be defunded locally, but Rhodes said the plan will assume that the 6.2-mile highway through Albemarle County will be built.

“Because the Western Bypass is in our transportation improvement program, it’s considered an existing and committed project,” Rhodes said.

For this plan update, a decision was made to review the plan using a “scenario-based” approach, rather than a project-based one.

During the end of the last update, members of the MPO discussed the merits of individual projects.

“The theory behind this new method is that transportation functions as a system,” Rhodes said. “Assessing all the projects together, as scenarios, allows us to see the entire system and how all of the chosen projects will affect the existing system and one another.”

For the first time, the update is using a traffic model developed by MPO staff to provide apples-to-apples comparisons of the different scenarios.

Even though the plan has not been adopted, the MPO is studying one project that could appear on the update.

Earlier this month, the agency was awarded a $250,000 grant to study the ecological effects of addressing congestion at Free Bridge. The grant had originally been written to specifically study the ecological effects of the Eastern Connector, a proposed road that ended up on the MPO’s wish list in UNJAM 2035.

The MPO will evaluate potential sites where additional bridges could be built across the Rivanna River using a mapping tool that identifies the ecological value of natural resources.

That planning process will kick off in September with a series of stakeholder meetings.

The draft long-range transportation plan will be further discussed throughout the fall and TJPDC staff said they hope the MPO Policy Board will adopt the document in May.
 

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