The regional body that makes transportation-related decisions in Albemarle and Charlottesville learned about several new projects Wednesday, but it also sought to ensure that the now-defunct Western Bypass stays dead.
Before being briefed on a new regional bike plan, possible bus service to Harrisonburg and the potential for more land for the Rivanna Trail, members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board first dealt with a procedural matter related to the bypass.
The MPO is responsible for updating a “transportation improvement program” that lists all projects that have or will receive federal funds.
The Western Bypass was defunded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in 2014 after it lost the support of federal, state and local officials. However, proceeds from the sale of land purchased for the project must be returned to the Federal Highway Administration.
The draft TIP records these future transactions and includes a note that “there are no efforts of recommendations to reinstitute this project.”
That language was not strong enough for one Albemarle supervisor who sits on the MPO board.
“It seems like that ought to be more explicit in the actual TIP,” said Liz Palmer.
For many years, the MPO only allowed funding for preliminary engineering and land purchase, but it did not allow any funds to be allocated for construction of the 6.2-mile highway. That changed in June 2011 when the MPO voted 3-2 to overturn that prohibition.
The FHWA indicated in February 2014 it could not support the project, and much of the funding for the project was transferred to what became known as the Route 29 Solutions package. The Virginia Department of Transportation is in the process of selling back land purchased for the project.
Because the bypass is technically still listed as an active project, Palmer wanted to ensure that the federal government knows local governments do not want the bypass to move forward again.
“I was thinking, maybe it would be nicer if you actually put in there that’s there to track financial close-out and it’s not included for construction purposes,” Palmer said.
That sentiment was echoed by a long-standing opponent of the roadway.
“In the event … that administrations change and someone were to try and revive the project, make absolutely clear in the TIP that it’s not included for construction purposes,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Then they would have to come back to this body, the MPO, for approval to get the TIP changed.”
The MPO voted to add the stronger language to the TIP.
The policy board also was briefed on projects the transportation staff with the MPO will conduct in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
Major work will begin on updating the Long Range Transportation Plan that must be completed by May 2019, but work also will commence on an initiative to help connect bike and pedestrian pathways among the six localities that make up the Thomas Jefferson Planning District.
“The Jefferson Area Pedestrian Plan is going to feed into the LRTP,” said Will Cockrell, a transportation planner with the TJPDC. “The city of Charlottesville is the only locality that has its own bike and pedestrian plan currently adopted, so part of it is going to be taking what the city did and making those connections to [Albemarle] County.”
Cockrell said work toward the regional plan also will incorporate the efforts of Albemarle’s Neighborhood Improvement Funding Initiative, which many growth area advisory committees have suggested could be used to fund trails and connections.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the regional plan will be very important for Albemarle.
“There are certainly a lot of county residents who commute into the city and would like to do so [on bike],” Mallek said.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin wanted the regional plan to include performance measures to determine how many people might use bikes to commute if the infrastructure were in place.
“In order to get joint funding for these projects between city and county for a regional plan, there’s got to be some justification,” she said.
TJPDC Executive Director Chip Boyles also is involved in the current small-area plans that are being conducted at the U.S. 29 intersections with Hydraulic Road and Rio Road.
“[Both] have just had an overabundance of bike and pedestrian discussions,” Boyles said.
The MPO opted not to take action at this time on a request from MIS Property LLC to donate land at the end of Holiday Drive to the city. The firm has asked for a portion of the street to be closed through a process known as vacation.
“We are also working with the Parks and Recreation Department at the city and intend to deed our end of the property to the city for the extension of the Rivanna Trail system,” wrote Kurt Wassenaar, manager for MIS Property in a letter to the MPO.
The MPO appeared to favor the idea but decided to wait until the conclusion of the Hydraulic Road small-area plan process. During the process that led to the Route 29 Solutions package, $20 million was to be split between preliminary engineering for a grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive.
“We really shouldn’t be commenting on the [land vacation] until the Hydraulic plan is completed,” Boyles said. “Right now, the plans do not impact this area, but who is to say the Hydraulic study [will] not?”
Boyles also briefed the MPO on a study of the feasibility of transit between Harrisonburg and Charlottesville conducted by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission. The TJPDC contributed $6,000 for the work.
“They now have a draft document that shows all of the stops between Harrisonburg and Charlottesville,” Boyles said. “It’s pretty much a three-bus system that would have two buses running all day for five days a week at roughly a half a million [dollars] in cost.”
Boyles said the project would require matching payments from participating localities.
Galvin said she could support it if it can be demonstrated it will eliminate cars that would otherwise be on Charlottesville’s streets.
“We really need to get people off the road who are congesting the city,” Galvin said.
The topic will come back to the MPO at a future meeting.