MPO staffer explains long-range transportation plan to citizens

More than 40 people braved the rain Wednesday to weigh in on the third round of scenarios presented by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The round 3 scenarios are looking at projects that are capacity-building for road and transit to determine those that we want in our preferred scenario,” said Sarah Rhodes, director of transportation programs at the MPO.

The MPO is over two years into a three-year process to develop a long-range transportation plan, a federally mandated document that lists all the potential projects the community plans to build over the next several decades.

“We want to build something that people want to see in their community and we want to ask these questions,” Rhodes said.

The first round of the process concluded that a widening of the U.S. 29/250 Bypass to six lanes would have benefit, as would replacement of the U.S. 29-Interstate 64 interchange.

The second round of the process concluded that widening U.S. 250 East from I-64 to Milton Road, along with improvements on Black Cat Road, would help reduce congestion on Route 53.

Projects discarded so far include an extension of the proposed Western Bypass, a widening of Fifth Street Extended, and the Eastern Connector. One man took issue with the latter.

“An accident [this week] on Route 250 in the Pantops area with multiple emergency responders shows the need for the Eastern Connector because the current scenarios are only limited to Route 250 and the Free Bridge,” said Albemarle County resident Jerry Deily.

Some people at the workshop said they had issues with the way the information was presented.

“A lot of people haven’t been following it so I don’t really find this informative because I don’t think it’s clear what the three scenarios are,” said William Vollrath, a Forest Lakes resident.

Others were supportive.

“I think they’ve been effective in letting people know what’s going on,” said city resident John Pfaltz.

Albemarle Planning Commission member Rick Randolph said he could not make a decision on any of the scenarios without a cost-benefit analysis.

“There’s nothing substantive for us to go on because there are no cost figures and there are no indications what the impacts are for any of these projects,” Randolph said.

The MPO included the $244 million Western Bypass in the current plan after a July 2011 vote, which means the new plan will assume it will be built.

George Larie examines one of the charts at the meeting

George Larie of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Transportation Coalition, a group opposed to the bypass, said the process should address the possibility that the roadway may not be built.

“They have developed scenarios based on false assumptions,” Larie said. “The bypass has so many problems that are unresolvable. What they’ve got to do is use the money on things that will solve traffic problems, like grade-separated interchanges at Rio Road and Hydraulic Road.”

However, removing the bypass from the long-range transportation plan would involve a new vote by the MPO Policy Board, the majority of which supports the bypass.

Mary Butcher, a University of Virginia graduate student who recently moved back to Charlottesville, said she is an avid biker who wants the transportation system to be safer for cyclists.

“Since going away and coming back, I’ve noticed there are a lot of issues, not just with biking but for pedestrians and public transit,” Butcher said.

Butcher said she had not attended a planning workshop before, but said the three scenarios presented were too limited.

“For 3C, they had transit to and from the airport, wherein in 3A, I love that there is transit to Crozet,” Butcher said. “More needs to be done within the city to make it safer for bikers and pedestrians.”

MPO staff will take input from the plan and make adjustments, and the Policy Board will decide which way to go.

At least one elected official said she wants to review assumptions made to date.

“We need to have much more understanding of these options in order to have meaningful input because I found this bewildering,” said county Supervisor Ann H Mallek, who spent eight years on the MPO’s citizen advisory committee.

Mallek said she had spoken with Rhodes, who told her that there will be many more opportunities for public input.

“I am relieved to hear this is not the end but the beginning,” Mallek said.

The MPO is expected to adopt the plan in May after selecting a preferred list of improvements. Rhodes said she hopes to meet that schedule in order to meet federal regulations, but that adjustments can be made.

“This is not our plan,” Rhodes said. “It’s what people want. If we end up slowing down, we will work through that.”