When construction eventually begins on a grade-separated interchange at U.S. 29 and Rio Road, motorists on the Albemarle County secondary road will be unable to cross U.S. 29 for up to three months.
“I had been really hoping that the answer was that this would not be true,” said Philip A. Shucet, a former VDOT commissioner who is overseeing implementation of $230 million worth of transportation projects intended to relieve traffic congestion on U.S. 29.
Shucet unveiled this detail during Thursday’s meeting of the Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel, which consists of business representatives along the corridor and other stakeholders.
“I thought we were told from the beginning that we wouldn’t have surprises like that,” said Charles Lebo, who manages several properties in the vicinity. “Are there any more surprises that are going to require other closures?”
Shucet said he did not believe there would be, but the closure of Rio would allow the work to be completed within a tight schedule. He added the contractor hired to do the work may suggest a way to keep the road open, but VDOT wants to allow it to close if the necessity arises.
On Oct. 2, VDOT is set to publish a request for proposals for construction of the $81 million Rio Road interchange, the $54 million northern extension of Berkmar Drive and a $51 million widening of U.S. 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center. All projects must be completed by September 2017.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board plans to award a contract to one team to design and build all three.
The conceptual plan for the Rio Road interchange calls for two lanes in each direction of U.S. 29 to be lowered to travel beneath a 350-foot bridge that will carry Rio Road. The total length of these depressed lanes will be around 2,000 feet, which will require retaining walls. On the other side of the walls will be turn lanes to allow local traffic to turn onto Rio.
“Most likely, we will see some night work occurring and some sort of wall being put down in the ground before we excavate,” said Joel DeNunzio, administrator of VDOT’s Charlottesville residency.
VDOT will require work within the existing intersection to take place between the University of Virginia’s graduation and its first home football game in either 2016 or 2017. A bonus will be paid if the work is done in 2016, officials said. However, work outside the intersection can take place before and after that window.
During the excavation period, traffic in both directions on Rio Road will be allowed to turn right onto U.S. 29, but left turns and through movement will be prohibited.
Right turns from U.S. 29 to Rio Road must be maintained, as well as through traffic. However, left turns likely will be closed and detoured.
More details on the detours are slated to be unveiled at the next meeting of the panel.
During construction, Shucet said, a temporary median cut will allow traffic heading north on U.S. 29 turn onto Berkmar Drive at a traffic signal.
Shucet acknowledged that there will be impacts to the area.
“The discomfort can be minimized, but it will exist in different ways at different times of the day,” he said. He added the goal is to do the work as quickly as possible, and that the contractor will have a financial incentive to complete the work in the interchange within six weeks.
Last week, The Daily Progress reported that some property owners had been contacted by VDOT and informed their land might be taken through eminent domain to create an underground corridor where utilities would be relocated during the interchange project.
Shucet acknowledged the letters were sent, but that no decision has yet been made.
“There is not going to be a utility corridor outside of the right of way unless the property owners and VDOT see some mutual benefit in such a utility corridor,” Shucet said.
One of the panelists expressed concern about a line that depicts the outer limit of temporary construction easements. Some of these areas include the edges of parking lots.
“The contractor is going to need some area on either side of the roadway to complete construction of the sidewalk and some of the turn lanes,” Shucet said. He added property owners would be compensated for this use.
Shucet said these temporary easements are different from areas that the contractor might need to store equipment.
“That’s between the contractor and the property owner,” Shucet said.
The request for proposals will include a reference to Albemarle County’s entrance corridor design guidelines. To inform that discussion, the Southern Environmental Law Center has hired a landscape architect to depict their hopes for how the interchange might look.
“We’ve spent a lot of time speaking about the traffic effectiveness of this project, but it’s important to realize that this will be an important visual gateway for our community,” said Morgan Butler, a senior attorney with the SELC.
For instance, Butler said driving through the underpass should be welcoming instead of like traveling through a concrete slab.
The Places29 Advisory Council plans to meet Sept. 22 to discuss the request for proposals. The advisory panel is set to convene again Sept. 25 to review the document before it is published.
The location hearing for Berkmar Drive Extended is slated for Sept. 18. The design public hearing for all three projects is scheduled for Oct. 14.