MPO holds first meeting of 2021

Last week, the regional body that takes votes on transportation projects met for the first time in 2021.

One item on the agenda was a public hearing on a cost increase for the Belmont Bridge replacement. That project has been in the planning stages for over ten years and set to get under construction this year. The cost estimate for the project is $31.1 million, or about six million higher than the most recent estimate included within the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s transportation improvement program. 

Charlottesville’s capital budget for the current fiscal year includes $5 million toward the project, and the draft capital improvement program includes $2.5 million. No one spoke at the public hearing. 

State and federal funding for the Belmont Bridge predate the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process. Results of the fourth round were recently released. VDOT engineer Chuck Proctor told the MPO Policy Board that the area was successful in getting many projects recommended.

“In the MPO area there were 15 total projects, 13 of them were funded,” Proctor said. “The only ones that weren’t funded were the Hillsdale Drive South extension and the Fray’s Mill intersection on 29.”

That last project is in the scope of an MPO study that will soon get underway to look at U.S. 29 between Airport  Road in Albemarle County and the intersection with U.S. 33 in Greene County. 

“The purpose of this corridor study is to develop broad transportation recommendations that complement the existing land use designations in the study area,” said transportation planner Jessica Hersh-Ballering. “This will not just be personal motor vehicles. This will be transit, bicycle, and pedestrian transportation. 

Source: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

On January 20, the Greene Planning Commission recommended approval of a zoning amendment that will allow construction to begin on 1,180 new homes off Preddy Creek Road. (Read Terry Beigie’s story in the Greene County Record to learn more)

There’s also the possibility that Greene County could be added to the jurisdictional boundaries of the MPO. Sandy Shackelford is the director of planning and transportation at the MPO. 

“We’re also going to be recommending that we use a consultant to do an MPO strategic plan, specifically as we start looking at the possibility of changing the MPO boundaries,” Shackleford said. “We think this is a really good opportunity to review and define who it is that we’re serving. Who is our client? Is that the elected officials? Is it members of the public at large? Is that our local government bodies and staff? We really want to spend some time thinking about who it is that we are doing this work for.” 

MPO members were interested in a recommendation from staff to find ways to raise additional revenue for transportation projects through public-private partnerships. City Councilor and MPO Chair Michael Payne said he would welcome work from staff on how transportation programs can be altered to help address climate change. 

“Connecting our climate action plan project to our capital projects and transportation projects, [and] think about how they interact with induced demand and emissions from transportation,” Payne said. 

Toward the end of the meeting, the MPO was briefed on a pair of grants intended to expand transit in the region. One is a $350,000 grant to create a regional vision for transit, and the other is a $106,215 feasibility study for expanded transit in Albemarle. 

“The $350,000 for the vision plan is intended to go beyond any work that the Regional Transit Partnership has already done,” said Hersh-Ballering. “Like what Richmond did, we’re trying to come up with a really clear plan for what kind of investment all of our transit agencies are going to make in the future. It will not get down to the details of route planning or determine how many vehicles to buy.”  

Finally, this was the last MPO meeting run by Chip Boyles, who will become City Manager on February 15. Christina Jacobs will serve as interim director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission while a search is conducted by Boyles’ replacement. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 16, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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