By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, June 8, 2009

The twenty-year master plan for the Route 29 corridor north of Charlottesville, known as

Places29

, has been under development for more than three years. This spring, the Albemarle County Planning Commission is continuing its review in a series of work sessions. When adopted by the

Board of Supervisors

, Places29 will be incorporated into the County’s comprehensive plan to guide future development in the County’s most urbanized area.


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Download the staff report with implementation table examples

A key goal of Places29 is to link land-use decisions with the community infrastructure improvements necessary to support a more densely populated community. That means planning for transportation improvements as well as parks, libraries and other community facilities. Places29 calls for the creation of a parallel road network and grade-separated interchanges for roads that currently intersect with US 29 at traffic signals.

On May 12, 2009, Judy Wiegand, a Senior Planner for Albemarle County, and other staffers sought the Planning Commission’s feedback on the most appropriate format for the implementation table. The implementation table is the County’s list of priority infrastructure projects necessary to address existing and future developments.  It serves as a guide for the public, planners and developers as to why, when and how projects will be built and funded.

The full implementation table and more specific cost estimates will be reviewed by the Commission this summer.  However, the discussion at this meeting mostly focused on what cost estimates should be displayed on the table, and featured a philosophical debate on whether the Commission should be concerned with potential sources of funding, given that the Board of Supervisors will ultimately make those policy decisions.






COMMISSIONERS DISCUSS HOW TO FORMAT IMPLEMENTATION TABLE



Staff shared an implementation table example for the Commission’s consideration. The transportation project was the conversion of Rio Road’s intersection with US 29 into a grade-separated interchange. The Rio Road project is a major component of developing the parallel road network called for in Places29, so the project’s description also includes the construction of “ring roads,” which would need to be in place before construction could begin. In this example, the action steps included:

There is no detailed engineering plan for the Rio Road intersection, but an appendix included with the new implementation table lists the broad parameters of how the grade-separated interchange would work:

“The grade separation would put Rio Road over US 29 and include direct ramps from eastbound to southbound US 29 and westbound to northbound US 29. Rio Road would cross over US 29 because the intersection is at the crest of a vertical curve on US 29. By depressing US 29, US 29 becomes a flatter roadway and there is less excavation…”




This image from the draft Places29
Master Plan shows how Albemarle County would create a road network as
part of the grade separated interchange at Rio Road and US29

Wayne Cilimberg, the Director of Planning for Albemarle County, said the Rio Road interchange called for in Places29 would likely not require the purchase of much land for the interchange because it is being planned as a “very tight interchange within right-of-way and the ring roads serve to provide the additional access.”

While no similar appendix entry yet exists for Hydraulic Road’s intersection with US 29, preliminary plans for that grade-separated interchange have been produced as part of the Albemarle Place project. The development’s previous owner, Frank Cox, was responsible for creating a plan that showed how at least six lanes of traffic could be maintained during construction.


A DISCUSSION OF COST ESTIMATES



Much of the Planning Commission’s discussion focused on what cost estimates would be appropriate to list for each transportation project.  David Benish, the Chief Planner for Albemarle County, initially suggested that the table list both the consultant’s cost estimate as well as the estimate factored into the MPO’s Constrained Long-Range Plan, also known as the UNJAM 2035 plan. Benish said if desired, the Commission could direct staff to break down the estimates to include separate items for construction and right-of-way acquisition.

“We’re going to sit down with VDOT and validate these numbers,” Benish said. “VDOT was part of the consultants’ process and the consultant used the VDOT cost estimate process to come up with these, so as we adjust them, we want to make sure VDOT is okay with what they had looked at before.”

Chairman Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said that as a person employed in the financial sector, he wanted to see as many details as possible. Commissioner Don Franco (Rio) said he wanted to see right-of-way costs included as a separate category, or at least broken down. Benish said that while the new table is being developed, County staff would be providing further information on right-of-way acquisition costs.

Franco asked if it would be worth listing the tax parcel numbers of the properties that will need to be acquired to provide the right of way. He was concerned that the

Hillsdale Drive Extended

project may be in jeopardy because the owners of the Regal Cinema 4, a crucial property along the way, are about to renovate their theater. Cilimberg said because the grade-separated interchanges are not yet fully designed, it is not yet known what properties would need to be taken.

Franco’s concern was that key properties essential to creating the new road network might not be secured. In particular, he cited the need to secure the land to build a bridge for Berkmar Drive Extended, which would allow for a north-south road running parallel to US 29 from Airport Road to the Shopper’s World retail center.

Cilimberg said in the case of the grade-separated interchanges, the small area plans would identify key parcels of property that would need to be acquired. In general, he said, he did not think it was prudent to list that information directly in the implementation table.

A key issue is how inflation should be factored into the cost estimates. The consultant who came up with the initial cost estimates for the transportation projects used the value of the dollar in 2007, the year the consultant’s work was finished. Benish said he assumed the Commission would want those figured to be extrapolated to the current year. The Chairman agreed.

“You have to time-stamp these estimates so we understand that they may be several million dollars off depending on when the year is,” Strucko said.

Julia Monteith, an ex officio member of the Commission, said she thought it would be better not to add escalation costs at this time because the real estate and construction markets are so volatile at the moment. Her point was that construction bids are currently coming in lower than expected, and that it was unclear how much projects would cost in the future.

Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) said he thought the numbers should be shown in the current year for now, but then should be updated every time the master plan is updated. Each master plan must be reviewed every 5 years. Edgerton suggested altering the cost estimates at that time. Cilimberg said staff was planning on using 2009 dollars if the plan is adopted this year.

At the end of the discussion, Cilimberg suggested condensing the UNJAM 2035 cost estimates and displaying one column that listed the estimated project cost in 2009 dollars.


COMMISSIONERS DISCUSS FUNDING SOURCES



The table also listed potential funding sources for the transportation projects.

“You just don’t know based on timing what funding is going to be available from VDOT,” Cilimberg said. “We’re saying [VDOT] should be the primary funding source for the grade separation, for example. But we may over time through the cash proffer system collect funds that can be put towards that project that would reduce VDOT’s part of the project… but we don’t know how much private funds we might have at that point of time.”

Cilimberg said with funding from the state uncertain, and with Albemarle County’s dwindling revenues, there would be challenges in paying for the improvements. He said it will be necessary to prioritize the first five projects crucial to building the road network.

“We’re only going to be able to identify a few of those elements that we think can actually get funded based on current resources that we can project being available, which is going to leave the question of,

‘How do you do the rest?’” Cilimberg asked. He said many of the transportation improvements would be necessary regardless of whether or not Places29 is adopted, given previous rezonings approved by the Board of Supervisors including

Albemarle Place

,

Hollymead

and

North Pointe

.

Loach said he thought it was a good idea to be able to let the public know the gaps between the planned improvements and the funding realities.

Franco said he wanted to see a column which calculated how alternative funding mechanisms could generate the necessary revenues to pay for the projects. However, Strucko said because the County has not settled on any alternative funding mechanism, providing that information could be over-simplified and could be misleading. Benish and Cilimberg said they would work on providing such information. That prompted Loach to warn that certain groups are already claiming the Planning Commission wants to raise taxes, an allegation he said was false.

Loach questioned whether funding was a policy area over which the Planning Commission should give its opinion. He said the Board of Supervisors would need to make those decisions and determine that policy.

“The project needs don’t go away just because the money isn’t there,” Cilimberg said. “Plans  are supposed to be able to tell you what you’re going to need and I think if you don’t identify what you’re going to need, and that’s been a problem that we’ve run into already with where we are now. We’ve got a backlog of needs that aren’t going to get addressed.”

Franco said he wasn’t proposing that the Commission make funding decisions, but that the Commission could help explain to the Board of Supervisors what options are available.

“Because these things are improvements that are required today, the public or the Board is going to have to make decisions on how to fund these projects,” Franco said. “It’s more for me that this plan is a transportation plan on how to meet the existing needs and it’s less about rezonings.” He predicted there would be fewer rezonings, and thus less opportunities to secure funding, as the Places29 area is redeveloped. Franco said that’s why he wanted to see data on how much money could be generated by either a service district or a gas tax.

Joseph disagreed with Franco’s approach and said the County’s next step would be to consider reducing its development area if it can’t afford the necessary infrastructure. That prompted Cilimberg to suggest that even if the County scaled back the growth areas, the necessary road improvements would still have to be made.

“The rezonings have already been done, the growth is happening and if it’s not in a development area, it’s somewhere else,” Cilimberg said. “Most everything in this plan that’s being shown for implementation purposes is to deal with growth that has nothing to do with this land-use plan.”

Places29 will next come before the Commission on June 16, 2009. Commissioners will consider the chapter on design guidelines as well as a revision of the land use tables and the future land use map.


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