As the Virginia Department of Transportation prepares for a public meeting on the Western Bypass, the Metropolitan Planning Organization will be presented today with details of a conceptual plan to extend the highway further north in Albemarle County

“The Western Bypass Extension project would connect with the planned U.S. 29 Western Bypass and extend north from Rio Mills Road to where Dickerson Road intersects with U.S. 29,” reads a summary for the $132 million proposed project.  
The MPO is currently in the early stages of reviewing its long-range transportation plan, a process required to received federal transportation funding.  
Earlier this year, the board of directors selected six conceptual projects for staff to prepare cost estimates for preliminary engineering, right-of-way and construction. 
“The purpose of the Long Range Transportation Plan is to identify future mobility needs, strategies for addressing those mobility needs, and to identify a prioritized list of transportation improvements for all the systems including roads, transit, bike and pedestrian to meet mobility needs,” said Stephen W. Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, an organization that houses the MPO. 
The 8.3 mile bypass extension under consideration would only have two lanes and would involve the construction of six miles of new road. The rest would utilize a portion of Dickerson Road.  
Another project that assumes the bypass would be built is called the “Route 29 Boulevard Concept.” This would involve lowering the speed limit on the business section of U.S. 29. 
Two lanes would be dedicated to transit, a ten-foot multi-use path would line the road, and pedestrian crossings would be installed at every intersection. This concept has a $45 million cost estimate. 
Williams noted that the existing road currently carries vehicles that want to travel from one part of the state to another. 
“Once the Western Bypass is constructed the existing section of U.S. 29 between Hydraulic Road and the South Fork of the Rivanna River will no longer serve that statewide mobility purpose,” Williams said. “The US29 Boulevard concept would make changes to the existing U.S. 29 to better serve local access.” 
Other concepts include widening the U.S. 29/250 bypass to six lanes between Old Ivy Road and Fontaine Avenue ($86 million), widening U.S. Route 250 to six lanes between Free Bridge and the I-64 interchange ($48 million), and Berkmar Drive Extended ($57 million). 
The list also includes the Eastern Connector, a road that would connect the Pantops area to Rio Road by using a portion of Route 20, a new bridge over the Rivanna River, and a road that would travel through or close to the city’s Pen Park. A two-lane Eastern Connector would cost $112 million, and a four-lane version would cost $145 million. 
Williams said the current forecast for federal funding through 2040 is $256 million. A separate forecast for transit funding is not yet available. The adopted plan can only list projects that have a reasonable chance of being funded within that time frame. 
MPO members will determine which of the projects should be advanced and which should be consigned to a wish-list. 
“Some of the projects are very expensive,” Williams said. ”In some cases, the only likely funding source is through prioritization by the MPO. In other cases, such as the widening of the US29/250…there is a possibility that the project will be a state priority.”
Williams said the Commonwealth Transportation Board will make the ultimate decision on which projects will be funded. However, the CTB cannot advance a project unless it has the support of a majority on the MPO. 
The MPO will take no action on the projects at today’s meeting but will provide direction to Williams and his staff. The plan will be further discussed in the next two meetings of the MPO. Williams said he does not expect adoption of the long-range plan until May 2014.
The MPO meeting begins at 4:00 pm in the TJPDC’s offices on Water Street
VDOT will hold a citizens information meeting on the Western Bypass on Thursday at Jack Jouett Middle School beginning at 6:00 pm.