At their meeting on December 22, 2008, the MPO Policy Board heard the details of a comprehensive study being conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation on the entire US 29 corridor in Virginia, from the North Carolina border to Gainesville in Prince William County. The MPO also made further adjustments to the UNJAM 2035 transportation plan, endorsed a grant application for the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center , and heard updates from area transit agencies.
VDOT Program Manager Charlie Rasnick is coordinating the US29 study, which he said will be one of the largest studies his agency has ever conducted. He said US 29 is a national highway classified just below the level of an interstate.
“[US 29’s] primary purpose is to carry long-distance travel,” Rasnick said. “But it also serves large volumes of local traffic.” However, reconciling those two purposes has been the primary focus of several previous studies as well as the ongoing Places29 Master Plan in Albemarle County . Rasnick said none of those studies looked at the entire 219 miles of the corridor, and that this corridor study will incorporate the access management elements called for under Places29. That master plan has still not been adopted by the County.
“What we’re trying to do is give an overarching blueprint for the corridor,” Rasnick said. In particular, the study will address ways to make the route more efficient for both long-distance travelers and local traffic. The study will examine different jurisdiction’s policies regarding land use and transportation, and will recommend specific access management plans.
“There may need to be legislation to protect the corridor, and that is to ensure that in the future there is a connection to [land use decisions] through local streets rather than direct access onto Route 29,” Rasnick said. In other words, some stretches of the corridor that are now posted at 60 miles per hour may soon become unsafe because of continued development.
The study will be overseen by Parsons Transportation Group of Virginia, a Richmond-based firm. The Charlottesville office of the Renaissance Planning Group has been subcontracted to assist on land use policy. Project Manager Joe Springer of Parsons, who has experience working on previous studies of US 29, said the study will not involve the collection of new data.
“The focus of this study, as per the direction of [VDOT Commissioner David Ekern], is to facilitate informed conversation,” Springer said. However, he also acknowledged the potential challenges. “This is not a one-size-fit-all solution. We are certainly not naïve enough to come into this thinking we’ll have some monolithic 219-mile cross-section that’s going to work for everybody.”
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) asked what traffic data would be used, pointing out that some officials in Danville and Lynchburg question data that shows that only 12 percent of traffic on US 29 in Charlottesville is through-traffic. Springer responded that data from previous studies would be used, as well as VDOT’s transportation modeling software. However, he said that he wanted to avoid getting “stuck in the mud” on the issue.
“I think there is a fairly good idea that there is some through-traffic through Charlottesville and Albemarle County, but it’s not a huge number,” Springer said. “Probably any improvement we look at whether it’s coming out of Places 29 is going to address both local and through-traffic.” Later on in the meeting, Slutzky said that he did not expect the proposed western bypass to be part of the discussion.
“It has been sufficiently debunked as a viable solution to anybody’s transportation needs,” Slutzky said.
Eight public meetings will be held in February, including one event to be held in the Charlottesville area. That will be followed by more detailed regional planning forums. Initial recommendations will be developed in the summer, to be followed by additional planning forums. A report will be made to the Commonwealth Transportation Board in November 2009.
CTS TRANSIT UPDATE
Ridership on the Charlottesville Transit Service continues to “do very well” according to CTS Director Bill Watterson. CTS provided over 819,000 rides in the fiscal year through November 30, a 12 percent increase on the previous year. Part of the increase is due to expanded service. Night service is now available on Route 5, which runs in a loop around Albemarle County’s northern urban ring. However, CTS’s funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will be cut by $82,000 in this fiscal year.
“At this point in time we are not planning any kind of adjustment,” Watterson said. He added that the CTS is currently enjoying the benefit of lower fuels costs and he hoped the reduction would take care of itself. The real challenge, he said, would involve preparing the budget for FY2010. Next year’s capital budget will include a request to fund the replacement of two replica trolleys.
MPO MEMBERS CONTINUE TO DEBATE NEW PROJECTS FOR UNJAM 2035
The MPO Policy Board concluded their preliminary review of the Fiscally Constrained Long Range Transportation Plan (CLRP) which is part of the UNJAM 2035 process.
For the first time, the MPO has prioritized the order in which grade separated interchanges will be built along US 29. Supervisor Dennis Rooker pointed out that the CLRP’s “Route 29 Corridor Improvements” was vague, and that it would be wise to spell out the community’s priorities. Grade separated interchanges along US 29 are the key elements in the transportation component of Places29. In November, the Rio Road interchange was moved to the CLRP’s vision list, which means that it is being taken out of active consideration due to a lack of funding.
Supervisor Rooker said traffic data shows the Hydraulic Road intersection would be the most effective in reducing congestion. However, the intersection also sits on the border of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. In January 1995, City Council voted down plans to build the interchange, and Rooker sought Council’s opinion on whether they would consent to it being the higher priority.
However, Supervisor David Slutzky made the case that the Rio Road intersection will be impacted by the opening of the Meadowcreek Parkway, meriting a higher priority. After some discussion, the MPO opted to move the Rio Road interchange to the CLRP and to move the Hydraulic Road interchange to the vision list.
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