(First of two posts)

The

MPO Policy Board

covered a lot of ground at its monthly meeting on June 18, 2008. Topics included the first public hearing for the MPO’s

Draft Transportation Improvement Program

, the first detailed overview of the

transportation component of the Places29 Master Plan

, as well as updates on the area’s transit systems.


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Melissa Barlow

The meeting was also the last to be attended by Harrison Rue, outgoing Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC).  Melissa Barlow, TJPDC’s Director of Transportation Programs, will serve as the Acting Director of the MPO until Rue’s successor is named.  Barlow joined TJPDC late last year after working with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.


County officials concerned streetcar study may derail RTA

Last week,

two City Councilors indicated support for a $200,000 conceptual
study

of a streetcar line for Charlottesville’s West Main Street
corridor. One of the proponents was Councilor

Satyendra Huja

, who asked
his fellow members of the MPO policy board if federal funds could be
used to support the study. To do so, the project would need to be
listed on the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and that
would happen if money from any funding source is available.

“Historically,
we’ve put a project in the TIP in the hopes that sometime in the middle
of the year we could get money,” Rue said. For instance, the Eastern
Connector Study was added to the TIP after the City and the County
contributed $250,000 to the project.  If the Easter Connector moves
forward, it will already have a place on the TIP.

Albemarle County Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio) said
it might seem to confusing to the public and the federal government to
be concurrently seeking federal funds for a streetcar as well as for a
Regional Transit Authority. He said it might make more sense to
incorporate any streetcar discussion into the RTA study. Huja agreed,
but said he thought it was important to conduct the feasibility study
recommended by the Streetcar Task Force.




Left to right: Brent Sprinkel (VDOT) John Giometti (VDOT), Quintin Elliot (VDOT), David Slutzky (Albemarle), Julia Monteith (UVA)

Slutzky said he would
only support the streetcar as an MPO study only if it were in the
context of the planning for the entire system. “My concern would be if
you’re engaging the public in a parallel path, towards a parallel
outcome, you might end up getting competing interests, and that would
be counterproductive to our goal of having a unified commitment to an
expanded transit system,” Slutzky said. Harrison Rue suggested that if
the MPO wanted to add the streetcar project to the TIP, it should be in
the form of a mode-neutral corridor study.

Slutzky suggested
that MPO staff bring back an amendment to the TIP to add an unfunded
corridor study, but to phrase the language in such a way to not
jeopardize the RTA discussion. The item will come back for a vote in
July.

CTS Director Bill Watterson said he didn’t think the
streetcar feasibility study would be incompatible with the RTA study. 
He said it would be common to conduct corridor studies at this state of
the planning, and that the West Main Corridor needed new
infrastructure. He acknowledged that the RTA study is so far
mode-neutral, which means no decisions can be made made now about what
kind of system should meet the regional needs. That’s currently the
strategy favored by the Federal Transit Administration, but Watterson
said the rules would most likely shift in favor of transit.

“As you aware, there
were streetcar studies done before of the corridor, including video
modeling of how it would look on Main Street. In the past that concept
had been rejected because of its cost and the amount of right of way it
would take up and down Main Street,” Rooker said.  He said it was his
belief that the City had agreed with the County that a Bus Rapid
Transit system would accomplish more for the investment.

City
Councilor

Julian Taliaferro

, who was the other member of Council to
support a streetcar feasibility study at the June 16 Council meeting,
said he changed his mind because of the possibility of developers
paying for half the study and the possibility of getting federal funds.
Slutzky said he was concerned that the RTA would be the region’s best
strategy for getting in line for those funds.

“If we get in line
to get in money for a project that will have potentially a very
positive impact on a very small subset of our community’s
transportation needs… it might actually undermine our access to the
money that would be needed to implement the larger system,” Slutzky
said. “We as an MPO certainly want to be thinking about the complex
interconnected transportation challenges that we are all trying to
overcome here. I would admonish the City Council to be very careful not
to go too far down a path if it might undermine [the RTA].”


Rooker questions VDOT descriptions of transportation projects





Supervisor Rooker was concerned about the lack of specifics on

a project to improve the intersection of Route 29 and the Route 250 Bypass



Supervisor
Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett)  said he was concerned that the Six Year
Plan adopted Thursday by the Commonwealth Transportation Board did not
contain detailed enough descriptions. He pointed to Project U-17, which
is a project to make improvements at the intersection of the Route 250
Bypass with US 29, between Hydraulic Road and Barracks. The TIP, which
contains the same language as in the Six Year Plan, has a broad purpose
listed as: “Bypass Interchange improvements – urban construction
initiative project – reconstruction without added capacity.” That
somewhat vague definition confused Rooker. “I had thought part of
the plan was to include an additional lane from Hydraulic Road down to
the 250 Bypass, and then an additional ramp in front of Best Buy, and
then carry that lane out onto the Bypass,” Rooker said.

City
Traffic Engineer Jeanette Janiczek said the City is pursuing that
strategy, and has applied for VDOT revenue-sharing money based on those
exact improvements. However, on-going traffic analysis might determine
another design would be more efficient, thus she said the purpose is
written broadly.

“We’ve got to make sure that it works from a
traffic standpoint,” said Quintin Elliot, the Acting Culpeper District
Administrator for VDOT. “We don’t want to go narrowing ourselves in to
what we’re going to do when something else might come out of the
traffic analysis.”

Rooker said the description was potentially
misleading, and narrowed the scope in such a way that might prevent
proffer money from being applied to the project. He said a portion of
proffer money from the rezoning of Albemarle Place is supposed to
contribute to the project.  Rue encouraged the City to brief the County
on the status of the project, given the County would be contributing in
the form of the proffer.





(Left to right at table: Harrison Rue, Dennis Rooker (Albemarle), Satyendra Huja (Charlottesville), Julian Taliaferro (Charlottesville))

Huja asked why the Hillsdale Drive
project is on the TIP, and said he heard there is no money for the
project from VDOT.  Elliot said that previous allocations have already
been made to pay for preliminary engineering. He said the City is
investigating the possibility of having much of the right-of-way
donated to keep the project alive. “If the right of way doesn’t move
forward, then the project may not,” Elliot said. Janiczek said City
staff are nearing completion on the design of the road “so that if
money falls out of the sky, we’ll start tomorrow.” So far, $3.1 million
has been spent on the project, which is currently estimated to cost
$30.5 million according to the Draft TIP.

Huja asked again if the
streetcar could be added to the TIP as a placeholder. Rue said they
would agree to discuss that at the next meeting. UnWanna Dabney of the
Federal Highway Administration said she could understand the point of
leaving items on the TIP, but said she would like to see a narrative
that explains the MPO’s financial strategy to obtain funds.  Rue said
the MPO had a fairly good track record in securing money for projects
placed on the TIP, again pointing to the example of the Eastern
Connector.

Supervisor Slutzky asked if a placeholder should also
be included for the Berkmar Bridge, given that developer Wendell Wood
has offered to contribute to some of the cost of the project to extend
Berkmar Drive over the Rivanna River.

The TIP will be voted on at the MPO’s meeting in August, after two more public hearings.


CTS and RTA Updates

Bill Watterson, the Director of the Charlottesville Transit Service, predicted his agency would reach almost 1.7 million riders in fiscal year that ends at the end of this month. He said CTS has experienced a 12% rise in passengers over last year. Watterson said the increase is mostly due to the ride-share agreement with the University of Virginia, and are not due to the increase in fuel costs.

“We would be seeing a lot more change due to fuel prices if we were a regional provider, because people making longer distance commutes would be making the switch from driving to riding the bus,” Watterson said. He called for continued study of a Regional Transit Authority so that outlying areas could become part of the system.

Barlow said she is trying to arrange a joint meeting with the City Council and the Board of Supervisors to further discuss the Regional Transit Authority. Harrison Rue said he did not have much hope that there would be any new information following the June 23rd special session on transportation funding, but that David Blount, TJPDC’s Legislative Liaison, would be closely following events in Richmond.  Rue said the next step is to draft the enabling legislation to allow the City and County to create the authority, and Rue said it would be important to have unanimous support from the 11 elected officials who make up Council and the Board.

Watterson said the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s adoption of the FY09-FY14 Six Year Plan means that night service will be added to CTS Route 5, a loop that connects Barracks Road Shopping Center with Fashion Square Mall and Wal-Mart via Commonwealth Drive. The change will take effect on August 23, 2008. Watterson said CTS was aiming to connect its real-time bus tracking system to Google Maps before the end of July.


Car-sharing service to debut on Grounds, study West Main/JPA intersection

Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use Officer in for the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect, told the MPO that the University is planning on offering a car-sharing agreement this fall with an initial fleet of up to six cars.

“It’s a car-sharing program where you’re able to use a car for a specific period of time,” Montieth said. “It’s a really sleek program that works well for everybody involved. For instance, you could use a car to go grocery shopping, or you could use a car for a day to go up to D.C. You typically pay by the hour.”

The service will be provided by Zipcar, a company that Monteith says is gradually rolling out its services to university towns like Charlottesville. One possible location for the Zipcar lot will be near the new 11th Street Parking Garage, as Monteith said Zipcar wants its distribution points to be visible by the public.

Monteith also announced that UVa is studying the Lee Street Corridor in front of the hospital in anticipation of the new Emily Couric Cancer Center. The demolition of the parking garage that previously stood on that location has disrupted pedestrian patterns for patients and staff. Monteith said potential  plans include a raised pedestrian walkway linking the 11th Street Garage to the Medical Center’s East Parking  Garage.

Monteith said plans are also underway to reconfigure the intersection of West Main Street and Jefferson Park Avenue as a right-angle.  Currently the two roads meet diagonally, creating a long intersection that Monteith said is a hazard.

Sean Tubbs

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