“I don’t see a lot of space to widen that road, and regardless of what we do, it’s still going to put all that traffic right onto Free Bridge,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow, one of two county representatives to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board, at a meeting of the group this week.
That concept was among the projects being considered for the long-range transportation plan, a document revised and adopted every five years by the planning organization. MPO staff has expressed hopes that the federally mandated plan will be adopted by May.
One project that will not be in the plan is an Eastern Connector, or some other project that would provide for an alternate to Free Bridge, which is projected to become even more congested between now and 2040.
“If we do not do anything by 2040, we’re expecting around 69,600 trips a day,” said Marie Scheetz, a transportation planner with the MPO. “Right now, we’ve got about 53,000.”
Free Bridge itself will be the subject of a $250,000 study funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The study was previously focused on the Eastern Connector.
The Free Bridge Congestion Relief Project will be facilitated by the Institute of Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia. The group’s expertise may be needed to mediate conflicting ideas for getting across the Rivanna River on the city-county border.
“We’re developing a stakeholder group that will lead this process,” said Sarah Rhodes, director of transportation programs at the MPO. “One of the things about this process is that it is open to all possibilities.”
Rhodes said she hopes the stakeholders will be able to start their work in November.
One non-voting member of the MPO noticed that all of the scenarios presented so far have the same basic pattern.
“When I look as these maps, the real issue is that people are coming from the east or the south and trying to get north of the city,” said Julia Monteith, senior land use officer for UVa. “The city itself is not congested. It’s all the movements people are trying to get around the city.”
The city and county paid $500,000 for a previous Eastern Connector study that recommended an alignment that would cut through or near Pen Park in Charlottesville. The idea was tabled in 2009 due to a lack of data on how it would relieve congestion.
“The problem with the Eastern Connector is that it would put traffic out at U.S. 250 on Pantops,” Snow said. “We’ve still not seen a true Eastern Connector.”
Projects that did move forward include widening the U.S. 29/250 Bypass to eight lanes between I-64 and Fontaine Avenue; widening U.S. 29/250 to six lanes from Fontaine to Barracks Road; and Berkmar Drive Extended.
Another project that will be studied further is an enhancement to the existing Free Bridge.
“We looked at an HOV lane across [Free Bridge] for transit and [vehicles with more than three passengers],” Rhodes said. “This would allow the bus to skip congestion issues at Free Bridge between where Route 20 meets U.S. 250 and where High Street intersects U.S. 250.”
Both the city and county planning commissions recommended against widening U.S. 250 on Pantops out of concern it would make traffic congestion worse on Free Bridge because the city has no plans to widen its portion of U.S. 250.
During the discussion, Snow asked if an extension of the Western Bypass had been modeled.
Rhodes explained that a two-lane extension of the bypass along Dickerson Road had been modeled, but that the idea was discarded by the MPO.
Snow then asked MPO staff to model an extension of the bypass north of Ruckersville, as well as an extension of South Pantops Boulevard across the Rivanna River to connect with High Street in Charlottesville.
Rhodes said that scenario will be examined as part of the Free Bridge study.
“It has a snowball’s chance in hell,” Huja said.
Rhodes said all scenarios have to be looked at as part of the study.
“To simply say no to any option is not appropriate,” she said.
During a discussion of intersection improvements, Huja asked for a study of the feasibility of a traffic circle at the intersection of Preston Avenue, McIntire Road and Market Street. Rhodes said that was not one of the intersections that had been identified as being hazardous.
Szakos said she did not necessarily support the traffic circle, but did say the road was going to change once the Meadow Creek Parkway is completed in 2015.
The MPO will hold a public outreach event on Oct. 23 to present the draft “preferred scenario” for the long-range plan. Rhodes said the MPO will finalize projects for the long-range transportation plan at its meeting in November.