By Sean Tubbs

Dexter Auction

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The transportation section of Albemarle County’s

Places29 Master Plan

has been slimmed down to include only projects that have a reasonable chance of being constructed within its first five years. That means county staff will not perform any design work for a grade-separated interchange at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road.


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“The plan doesn’t eliminate the reference to grade separations but it emphasizes that the first step should be to prolong the need for [them] for as long as possible,” said county planner David Benish during a work session Wednesday with the

Board of Supervisors

.

Benish wrote in a staff report that the current capital improvement budget contains only $2.57 million for transportation improvements during the next five years, with only half of that designated for the Places29 area. He also added that the county does not expect to receive more than $320,000 each year in secondary road funds from the state.




Download staff report for September 1, 2010 Board of Supervisors’ meeting

The draft Places29 plan now recommends that the county channel that money towards preliminary engineering studies to advance the widening of U.S. 29 to six lanes from

Hollymead Town Center

to the North Fork of the

Rivanna River

. The plan also calls for a study to determine where a bridge over the river would be located to allow

Berkmar Drive to be extended

.

“We’ve only got [limited] dollars for five years,” Supervisor

Duane Snow

said. “I’d rather take money we’re going to spend on studies for things we won’t do for 20 years … and [instead] put all our time and effort into these five things that we know will make a huge difference. Once those are accomplished, then we can come back and examine what we want to do in the future.”

The plan also acknowledges that the

Hillsdale extension

and improvements to the

U.S. 250/29 intersection

are key components to reduce congestion on U.S. 29. Those projects are being shepherded by Charlottesville.

Additionally, lines depicting potential road connections will be removed from maps, except in cases where they have been proffered as part of rezoning or agreed to by existing property owners.

Neil Williamson of the

Free Enterprise Forum

has long campaigned against Places29 but welcomed the changes.






Carter Myers


“It is possible to take the good out of Places29 and get something done,” Williamson said.

Carter Myers, a former member of the

Commonwealth Transportation Board

who owns several car dealerships on U.S. 29, said grade-separated interchanges would threaten Albemarle County’s bottom line.

“Jobs and taxes come out of U.S. 29,” Myers said. “That needs to be our engine for our economic development and our economic income.”

But Jeff Werner of the

Piedmont Environmental Council

said the interchanges would provide a way for motorists to cross U.S. 29 without stopping, a necessary step in alleviating traffic congestion.

“Those cars cannot get across 29 and it’s going to get worse,” Werner said. “For whatever reason, the business community … prefers gridlock.”

Morgan Butler of the

Southern Environmental Law Center

was disappointed the interchanges would not be actively planned for several years.

“We have to keep in mind this is a master plan,” Butler said. “It requires we identify land use designations and the transportation projects that we need to handle the growth that we know is coming. … If we start taking off road projects, all we’re going to have left is the growth, with no plan to handle the traffic.”

Supervisors discussed whether to honor a request from Timothy Hulbert, executive director of the

Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

, to remove all references to the interchanges. At issue was whether a small group of stakeholders could begin discussing what a Rio Road interchange might look like.

“I think to be intellectually honest we have to say all the traffic studies indicate that we should put the interchanges in,” Boyd said. “But I think I’d rather simply say at this time there’s no funding and no intent to do it.”

Supervisors also voted 4-2 to include an expansion of the county’s growth area to accommodate more commercial development north of the river. Developer

Wendell Wood

has offered to contribute towards the bridge’s construction if the

Comprehensive Plan

is amended. A second expansion to expand the growth area near the Rivanna Station military base will also be considered.

Supervisor

Dennis S. Rooker

explained his opposition to the Hollymead expansion.

“We can create ghost towns in the existing commercial areas by continuing to improve more and more greenfield development,” Rooker said. He said the county should not consider zoning more land for commercial use until

Albemarle Place

,

North Pointe

and

Hollymead Town Center

are built out.

Boyd disagreed on philosophical grounds and said Berkmar won’t be extended as a parallel road unlessWood’s land is brought into the growth area.

The Places29 Master Plan will go to public hearing in November. Supervisors will have more chance to review the plan’s language before that occurs.


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