The group that makes decisions about transportation projects in Albemarle and Charlottesville considered two new projects Wednesday that would address traffic congestion at the bridge over the Rivanna River on the city-county border.

One project would add more lanes to Free Bridge, and the other would improve the roadway’s intersections at High Street and Route 20.

However, the Metropolitan Planning Organization must wait until its next meeting in late May before it can vote on the proposals because a formal public hearing must be held before any changes are made to the plan.

At that time, the MPO will also consider a request from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville to fund a network of bike and pedestrian trails in Albemarle’s southern growth area.

“We think this is a great opportunity for the community to extend multimodal transportation aspects from the city all the way to the [future] Biscuit Run State Park,” Don Franco, a developer representing Habitat, told the MPO.  

In order to eventually receive federal money, a project must be in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan and must be on a list that includes only those projects for which funding has been identified.

However, the plan also contains a “vision list” of desired projects that might not yet be fully developed.

The two projects on U.S. 250 emerged from a process shepherded by the Institute of Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia that was paid for by a federal grant. Stakeholders included city and county residents, business owners and representatives of environmental groups.

“We were trying to identify some good transportation alternatives to one of our region’s choke points,” said Wood Hudson, a planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “It’s all about integrating planning and identifying mitigation possibilities up front.”

The intersection improvements have a preliminary cost of $7.4 million and would add turn lanes and alter traffic signal patterns. However, the project would have only a “low” effect on relieving congestion.

Adding new lanes to Free Bridge would cost $20.5 million and would have a “moderate” impact on congestion.

“This would involve removing the pedestrian facilities from the bridge and moving them to a new span elsewhere on the river,” Hudson said.

Both projects were scored as having a low ecological impact.

The goal of the Free Bridge Congestion Relief Project is to develop a series of ideas to improve traffic flows on U.S. 250.

Proposals that did not advance from the process include a second bridge over the Rivanna River to extend South Pantops Drive into the city limits and a Rivanna River Parkway. The latter project was once known as the Eastern Connector.

Habitat’s Biscuit Run gateway did not emerge through an official planning process.  Instead, the group asked the MPO in January to consider consolidating several existing projects into a network of trail improvements in Albemarle’s southern growth area.

The gateway concept is part of Habitat’s goal to redevelop the Southwood Mobile Home Park.

“We feel this will help us if it’s on the visioning list and it will help us as we go for funding mechanisms for Southwood,” Franco said.

However, members of two MPO subcommittees have said they need more information before they can make a recommendation on the Biscuit Run gateway.

Will Cockrell, a TJPDC planner who oversees the MPO, said subcommittee members felt all projects should receive a full review before they can be added to the vision list.

Cockrell said that the MPO will consider all three potential amendments to the long-range transportation plan at its next meeting in May.

“We wanted to make amendments as a package,” Cockrell said.

The MPO also elected Albemarle Supervisor Ann H. Mallek to serve as its new chair.