(Second of two posts)
While the Places29 Master Plan remains somewhat stalled, the Transportation Component has been released and was presented to the MPO at their June meeting. Harrison Rue took the MPO Policy Board through the long-term document, which suggests hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation improvements over the next 25 years.
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The US 29 North Corridor Study covers the nearly 11 miles between the Route 250 Bypass with the Greene County line. The study incorporates the recommendations of the 29H250 Intersection Study, and also features a plan to develop a series of a parallel north-south connector roads that would connect to US 29 through a series of grade-separated interchanges at Hydraulic, Rio, Airport and other roads. Rue said the idea is consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan goal to focus growth in the development area, and large components of the parallel road network rely on the redevelopment of existing shopping centers.
“The goal of this plan is to provide better access and multimodal access to a lot more parcels,” Rue said. The study also includes a conceptual route for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit, as well as the parallel road. Rue said the MPO will attempt to make a pitch to FHWA for using primary road funding to develop those components that can help speed through traffic along Route 29.
Table 3 of the Study lists short-term projects, and breaks these down based on section of road. The table also lists estimates for each where applicable, and who is responsible for paying for each section. For instance, the table shows that North Pointe Drive will be constructed in the short-term (1-5 years) by the property owner (Great Eastern Management Company) at a cost of $9 million. VDOT, on the other hand, will be responsible for other projects, such as a $2 million project to signalize and add left-turn lanes at the intersection of Burnley Station/Frays Mill Roads and US 29.
Mid-term projects are listed in Table 4 and anticipate the creation of an RTA to develop a Bus Rapid Transit System (estimated at $16 million), a new Berkmar Bridge (estimated at $14 million) and the reorientation of the Hydraulic Road intersection to anticipate an eventual grade-separated interchange. Long-term projects (Table 5) for the next 11 to 20 years include extension of the BRT up to the airport, a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic Road ($33 million), a grade separated interchange at Rio and US 29 ($35 million) as well as widening of US 29 to 6 lanes from Polo Grounds Road to Town Center Drive ($15 million) at Hollymead.
The next steps are for the MPO to consider adoption of the plan, as well as to prioritize the various projects. Rue said the plan would also be submitted to the firm that is eventually selected to conduct the statewide corridor review of US 29.
Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said his organization recommended the plan because it would encourage redevelopment while also providing a solution for through-traffic without requiring a bypass. He encouraged that the MPO focus on the southern part of the Places29 area first, because that is the area closest to the County’s “urban fabric.” Butler also urged speedy consideration of the grade-separated interchange at Rio Road, given the impending construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway and the planned Berkmar Road extension.
Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum said he was concerned about the cumulative price tag of all of the improvements suggested in the plan. He estimated a $292 million total for public-funding for all the projects identified. He said this figure only covered construction, and not right-of-way costs.
After the public hearing closed, Rue acknowledged the high cost of all of the various projects, but said it was important to not get too bogged down in cost estimates for what was essentially a long-range plan. He suggested transportation funding would change in the next few years, given a pending change in leadership in the White House.
“We have been waiting our turn to build anything new in this area until we’ve finished this study,” Rue said. Rue said the MPO’s efforts to link transportation improvements with land use are consistent with the national trend towards supporting projects that reduce carbon emissions through mixed-use development.
“We’re not unrealistic in assuming that we’ll get some funding some elements of this,” Rue said. He added that the philosophy of the plan is gradually develop a road network for the County. He added that the full corridor study being commissioned by VDOT might also provide more funding.