By Sean Tubbs

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Charlottesville Tomorrow

The

Metropolitan Planning Organization

wants Virginia’s top transportation official to explain why

Charlottesville

and

Albemarle County

are slated to receive what they believe is a disproportionate amount of funding over the next six years.

According to a letter addressed to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, the Charlottesville-Albemarle metropolitan area makes up 1.8 percent of Virginia’s urban population but is only expected to receive about 0.14 percent of the amount the state will spend on transportation between now and 2017.

“Overall, $3.34 billion is proposed to be invested in transportation improvements in the [state’s] 14 metro areas with only $4.5 million proposed to be invested in transportation improvements in Charlottesville-Albemarle,” reads the letter, which was written by MPO staff and signed by Albemarle Supervisor

Rodney Thomas

, the MPO chairman.

In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will take action on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s draft six-year improvement program for fiscal years 2012 through 2017. The MPO Policy Board voted Wednesday to submit the letter as part of the public input process.

“The six-year improvement program is the way the state decides how it’s going to spend money and where it’s going to spend money for transportation improvements,” said

Stephen W. Williams

, executive director of the

Thomas Jefferson Planning District

.

“If money doesn’t go into the [plan], the project is not going to get built,” Williams added.

One project not included in the draft plan is the widening of U.S. 29 to six lanes between the South Fork of the Rivanna River and the

Hollymead Town Center

. The project is a top priority in the county’s Places29 Master Plan.

“Any user of the transportation system in Central Virginia is aware that this segment of this primary roadway is currently highly-congested and also has safety issues related to grades and sight distances at intersections,” reads the letter.

The six-year plan also does not include several other priority projects identified by local officials.

“Two projects which come to my mind, [replacing]

Belmont Bridge

and [extending]

Hillsdale Drive

, can be done right now if we had the money,” said City Councilor

Satyendra Huja

.


James Utterback

, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, said one reason for the disparity is that the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO often has a difficult time reaching consensus on transportation improvements.

“You know, as well as everyone else, how difficult it is to move a project [forward] in this area,” Utterback said. “The more the MPO focuses on regional issues, the more opportunities there are.”

However, Williams said he did not accept Utterback’s point of view.




Stephen Williams

“Everybody else in the state got their projects in this six-year improvement program and we didn’t, and I want to know why we did not,” Williams said. “This statement that there isn’t a consensus is something that I’ve not noticed.”

Huja pointed out that the city and county have agreed on the extension of Hillsdale Drive. David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the county placed a top priority on that road in the Places29 Master Plan even though it is in city limits.

A design public hearing was held for the Hillsdale extension last year, a requirement before right of way can be obtained through purchase or donation.

It was also announced at Wednesday’s meeting that the cost estimate for the Belmont Bridge replacement had been raised from $9.2 million to over $14 million.

Utterback suggested the city continue to work on the design for the bridge replacement. A design public hearing for that project is scheduled for later in the year.

“Continue to push the design and get it ready to go to construction so there’s no doubt it’s ready to go,” Utterback said.

Secretary Connaughton was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

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