Business leaders have asked the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to eliminate grade-separated interchanges from the Places29 Master Plan. The plan, which has been in development for over five years, lists dozens of infrastructure projects designed to ease traffic congestion in the U.S. Route 29 corridor.
“I think you’re treading in very dangerous waters here,” said Timothy Hulbert, the president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce . Hulbert and other business leaders have called for the county to include only projects on which the community can reach consensus.
Cox Company design for a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic and U.S. 29 (Click for a higher resolution image)The plan calls for the creation of several grade separated interchanges to help the flow of east-west traffic. The cost for both construction and design of the Hydraulic Road interchange , for example, is estimated to be $39.6 million. The estimate for one at Rio Road is $40.5 million, but would require an additional $17.1 million to build ring roads to make the project work. Henry Weinschenk, who owns a business that would be affected by an interchange at Hydraulic Road, insisted that planners are trying to convert the road into an expressway. He said ramps for the grade-separated interchanges would keep customers from businesses.
“You have to show people the ramps, you have to show people the expressway you’re building,” Weinschenk said.
At least three supervisors vocally expressed opposition to the interchanges at a work session held on Wednesday.
“There’s no way you can build an interchange that’s not going to take out businesses on the four corners,” said Supervisor Ken Boyd .
Boyd said because the community could not afford to pay for the interchanges, they should not be planned at this time.
However, Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said planning should continue despite a lack of funding.
“We’ve known for quite a long time that 29 simply won’t work unless we untangle the north-south and east-west traffic movements at both Rio and Hydraulic,” Butler said. He said a decision on whether to go forward with grade-separated interchanges should come when more detailed plans for those intersections are created.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker , a supporter of grade-separated interchanges, said traffic conditions will eventually deteriorate to a point where crossing U.S. 29 will be very difficult.
“There is no way you can accommodate east-west movements across 29 as future traffic conditions deteriorate without having a way to go over or under 29,” Rooker said.
Supervisor Rodney Thomas , an opponent of the grade-separated interchange, pointed to Broad Street, one of Richmond’s main commercial roads.
“There’s no interchanges on that road, and it operates fine,” Thomas said. “I don’t go along with this idea that you can’t get across 29.”
Rooker said putting two grade-separated interchanges on 29 is not the same as creating an expressway. He pointed out the speed limit would still remain 45 miles per hour.
Thomas said he would like to go further and reduce the limit to 35 miles per hour, and turn the road into more of a commercial boulevard.
Supervisors also disagree over whether Berkmar Drive should be extended north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River. Supervisor Rooker questioned the logic of planning for a multimillion dollar project that would only qualify for secondary road funding from VDOT.
“Even if you get somebody to kick in four or five million dollars of private money, that’s only ten percent of a road funded,” Rooker said. “We got three hundred thousand dollars this year in secondary road funds.”
No supervisors opposed the notion of widening U.S. 29 to six lanes north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River, nor did anyone oppose the idea of creating a second ramp onto U.S. 250. Both projects are also in the plan.
The board agreed to hold a public hearing on the plan on June 9. A final draft has been posted on the county website for public review. Chair Ann Mallek suggested a decision to reduce the scope of the plan may come after that meeting.
A reduction in efforts to actually carry out the plan is likely to occur.
Every master plan in the county sets up an advisory council of stakeholders to shepherd its implementation. However, the county’s community relations manager said it will become necessary to reduce the scope of these councils because of a lack of staff to help them do their work.
“The councils were originally conceived of at a time when things were different than they are now,” Catlin said. “The county [capital improvement program] was much more robust. It had significant funding programmed and anticipated for capital investment in the infrastructure projects called for in the plans.”
Catlin suggested the councils will likely become less hands-on, but will evolve into providing more of a liaison role.
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