Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton appears to have fulfilled a promise to pay for several road projects in return for local support for the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 in Albemarle County .
Last summer, Connaughton indicated in writing that he would recommend funding for the Belmont Bridge replacement and an extension of Hillsdale Drive in VDOT’s six-year improvement program for fiscal year 2013.
Albemarle Supervisors Duane E. Snow and Rodney Thomas said they would not vote to allow construction funding to be allocated to the bypass unless those projects were also funded.

Jim Utterback

“The draft [six-year improvement program] has an additional $10 million for the Belmont Bridge and there’s about that for Hillsdale as well,” said Jim Utterback , the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District .

Utterback’s comments came during a briefing before the Planning and Coordination Council , an entity made up of Charlottesville, Albemarle and University of Virginia officials.
The extension of Hillsdale Drive has a cost estimate of $29.9 million. With only around $13 million allocated, the project will only move forward if shopping center owners along its alignment donate land for the right of way.
With this funding, VDOT engineer Brent Sprinkel said the Hillsdale Drive extension would go to advertisement in July 2015. Previously no advertisement date had been specified because funding sources were unclear.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said it was her understanding that VDOT would move forward with the Hillsdale project once the Regal 4 Cinema moves across U.S. 29 to its new location in the Stonefield development .
Sprinkel said there is a chance Hillsdale could be built sooner.
“The city has indicated that if it can get the right of way faster, I believe the funding will be there and we will advance the advertisement date on it,” Sprinkel said. “The plans I think are already complete on the project.”
The Belmont Bridge replacement has a cost estimate of $14.5 million. If the Commonwealth Transportation Board votes to approve the project, it will be fully funded.
The city of Charlottesville is currently working with MMM Design to develop revised plans for the bridge following a lack of support from members of the Belmont neighborhood for the original design.
There is still no scheduled date for when bids for its construction will be advertised.
Another item included in a letter from Connaughton is the addition of a second southbound lane on the on-ramp connecting Emmet Street with the U.S. 250 bypass. Connaughton said he would provide funding for VDOT to take over administration of the $4.7 million “Best Buy Ramp” project from the city.
“That is by far the biggest traffic choke point in the area,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker .
The project is not scheduled to be advertised for construction bids until November 2014, according to VDOT engineer Brent Sprinkel. However, many PACC members expressed frustration that the Best Buy project was not progressing faster.
“When we changed leadership for the project… the thought was it could be done it more expeditiously,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja . “It seems like we’re falling behind.”
Utterback said further traffic analysis was needed to make sure the proposed improvements would actually work.
“We needed to try to have a design concept that could stay within the right-of-way,” Utterback said.
Another question facing the Best Buy ramp is the fate of a proffer that requires Edens & Avant, the developer of Stonefield, to contribute $1 million to the project to extend a new southbound lane from Hydraulic to the ramp.
City and county officials were uncertain about the terms of how that proffer is supposed to be paid. Utterback urged them to sort out that issue quickly.
“I anticipate the estimate is going to go up a little bit,” Utterback said. “To try to stay in the right-of-way we’re going to have to build some [stabilized earth] walls.”
Sprinkel also said VDOT hopes to advertise the $4.7 million Broomley Road bridge replacement in December 2014. The bridge was damaged after being struck by a train, but the railroad has no obligation to contribute to its repair or replacement.
The $32.5 million widening of U.S. 29 from the Rivanna River to Hollymead Town Center is also fully funded. Design work will begin this summer.
The CTB will vote on the six-year improvement program on June 20. They will also vote then on whether to award a contract for the $244.5 million western bypass .
“Overall from the governor’s transportation program, the area has benefited,” Utterback said.