MPO considers expanding its boundaries to other localities in region

The Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board will consider today whether to expand its boundaries to include Lake Monticello, Ruckersville and other growing communities located outside of Albemarle County.

“Important transportation decisions will be made about the highways that connect those areas to Charlottesville via U.S. 29, Virginia Route 53 and U.S. 250,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, which staffs the MPO.
Williams said the federal government recommends that MPOs reassess their planning area boundaries after every census to ensure population growth is factored into its decisions.
The 2010 census classified Lake Monticello in Fluvanna County as an urban cluster with a population of 9,528. In Greene County, both Twin Lakes (pop. 3,191) and Ruckersville (pop. 5,785) are eligible to be added to the boundaries of the MPO.
Currently, Crozet is not within the MPO planning boundaries, but the 2010 census classified the community as an urban cluster because it has a population of 5,527.
“The idea is to bring the leaders from those areas to the table at this point, try to make good transportation decisions in advance of development when it is relatively easy and 
cheap, as opposed to after development occurs when it is difficult and expensive,” Williams said.
Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, issued a statement this week saying he is opposed to the idea because an expanded MPO might lose its focus.
“While we recognize the entire transportation network is interlinked, it is difficult to draw a direct impact of Hillsdale Drive Extended to Lake Monticello,” Williamson wrote on the Free Enterprise Forum blog.
Currently, the MPO policy board has five voting members. Two are Charlottesville city councilors, two are Albemarle supervisors and one is the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.
Williamson, a supporter of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass, said the MPO might not have voted last summer to approve the project if it had been a larger body.
“Expanding the voting members significantly changes the voting pool and diminishes the import of the VDOT representative,” Williamson wrote.
Last July, VDOT’s Jim Utterback cast the deciding vote at the MPO meeting that removed policy language preventing the bypass from moving forward. The vote reflected the will of Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in the face of city and county representatives split evenly on the matter.
Williams said the existing members of the MPO would have a lot of flexibility if they decide they want to expand the boundaries.
“Once the MPO policy board decides that it will open the door for new members, [those] county board of supervisors would be asked to vote to agree to the MPO charter,” Williams said. “If they chose to add those members, they could give them votes immediately, or they could choose to make them ex officio members at first with voting status at some point two to four years down the road.”
Zion Crossroads, a Louisa County locality, did not meet the residential population density to be considered an urban cluster.
A vote on expansion will not be taken at today’s meeting. Williams said if the board is interested in expanding the MPO, a vote will be taken at the September meeting.
Elsewhere in Virginia, the Staunton/Waynesboro area also has become an urbanized area with the 2010 census. However, Danville’s population decreased below the 50,000 threshold required for a community to have MPO status.
The MPO also will hear an update on the Western Bypass; will amend its transportation improvement program to reflect the status of several other road projects; and will review proposed projects being considered for inclusion in a document that lays out what will be built in the next 20 years.
“The Long Range Transportation Plan is one of the few planning documents in which we are required to identify the cost of proposed projects, the amount of money that will be available for transportation projects and in which we are required to limit our planning to only projects that we can afford,” Williams said.
When the last plan was adopted by the MPO in 2009, the $244.5 million bypass was not included. The MPO voted 3-2 to amend the plan in the summer of 2011 after the Commonwealth Transportation Board fully funded the cost estimate.
Conceptual projects that are being reviewed for the next long-range plan include the Eastern Connector, the widening of U.S. 250 to six lanes through Pantops and converting the stretch of the existing U.S. 29 that would be bypassed to a slower “boulevard.”
The MPO policy board meeting begins at 4 p.m. in the TJPDC’s Water Street Center.