Officials report on state of infrastructure, transit projects

Ann H. Mallek, chairwoman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, told a crowded meeting room at the Senior Center on Wednesday that the county could have spent money more wisely during the economic downturn.

“The outrage is that, during the recession, some places dug into their reserves and got three buildings for the price of two, and to me, that’s a waste of money,” Mallek said, suggesting that Albemarle County could have acted earlier on current infrastructure projects.

Mallek’s comments came at a forum with the Senior Statesmen of Virginia where she was joined by Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja to report on the current state of the city and county.

Mallek highlighted progress on several infrastructure projects including the Crozet library, the recently acquired site for a new Northside library on Rio Road and the search for a home for a police training facility.

“We have to do something for the police firing range and training center that won’t impact the quality of life for those around it,” Mallek said.

Mallek also discussed expanding and relocating the general district and circuit courts, noting that the price tag could range between $20 million and $40 million, depending on the location.

“We need to find ways to balance the savings and cost if we moved the … court to a county location, which would have an economic development effort right around it, or to keep it downtown,” Mallek said.  “And we’re going to need the city’s help in working at how we could use the Levy property perhaps.”

“I know the folks in the general district courts system … really hope that we can afford to keep it downtown,” Mallek added.

Mallek and Huja both spoke in response to concerns about area transit and traffic.

Mallek said a new county-funded bus route serving Rio Road is budgeted to begin after July 1, and addressed the complications the city and county have faced in developing a regional transit authority.

“We have the paperwork for the transit authority,” Mallek said, “we just don’t have the money.”

In 2009 the General Assembly passed legislation allowing Charlottesville and Albemarle County to form a regional transit system that both localities would share. The legislation, however, did not grant the localities permission to hold a referendum on a sales tax increase to pay for it.

“That is the pathetic situation we have with our General Assembly right now and I do hope new voices will get there and continue jumping up and down and that our local citizenry will help,” Mallek said.

Focusing on current traffic concerns on Hillsdale Drive, as well as the increased congestion the extension of that road may bring, Mayor Huja pointed to traffic calming and improved transit.

Huja said that the new road, which will connect East Rio Road to Hydraulic Road, will have traffic lights, traffic calming measures and sidewalks.

“The solution is transit, but the transit is infrequent so people don’t use it,” Huja said.  “Better transit means fewer cars which means less traffic.”

To engage with additional local issues, Mallek urged audience members to attend the comprehensive plan public hearings.

“I do hope that all of you will read up on the changes to the Comprehensive Plan, which are being debated at the planning commission level now and will be passed to the Board of Supervisors in the summer,” Mallek said.  “And I do hope that we will have your help as we go forward.”