Monthly Archives: May 2021

an update on transportation projects in albemarle county

(This segment originally appeared in the May 29, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

At the height of the Great Recession earlier this century, Albemarle County froze many positions and slowed contributions to its capital improvement program. One job that was not filled for many years was transportation planning, but for the past few years, Albemarle has put together an organized list of potential projects to address road capacity issues as well as bike and pedestrian connections.

In July 2019, they adopted a priority list ranging from Hydraulic/29 Improvements at #1 to U.S. 250 West / Gillums Ridge Road Intersection Improvements at #89. 

“That list provided all capital transportation projects that are recommended through the various county planning processes,” said Kevin McDermott , a chief of planning in Albemarle, in a May 19 to the Board of Supervisors. (review the update)

The list is intended to help planners identify funding sources for projects, such as the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program as well as the county’s own capital improvement program.  

“We have gotten 12 projects from that 2019 project list funded,” McDermott said. 

  • Hydraulic 29 / Improvements, including a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 29 and a roundabout at Hillsdale and Hydraulic, are slated to be funded at $24 million by Commonwealth Transportation Board in June (#1)
  • U.S. Route 250 improvements to add median between Route 20 and Rolkin Road to receive $6 million in Smart Scale funding using $2 million in local funds (#2)
  • Route 20 / U.S. 250 intersection will be rebuilt using funding from 2018 Smart Scale round sometime in 2024 (#3)
  • Berkmar Drive will be extended further north to Lewis and Clark Drive, providing a continuous roadway to UVA North Fork Research Park. Funding came from VDOT’s revenue sharing program.
  • Further changes to Fontaine Avenue / U.S. 29 intersection including a shared-use path (#6)
  • A roundabout will be built at Old Lynchburg Road and 5th Street Extended with $5 million in VDOT funds and $2 million in Albemarle funds (#7)
  • A roundabout at Rio Road and the John Warner Parkway is recommended for $8 million funding in the current Smart Scale process and $2 million in Albemarle funds will be used (#15)
  • Bike and pedestrian improvements will be made on Old Lynchburg Road using Albemarle funds (#26)
  • A section of the Northtown Trail shared-use path will be built between Seminole Lane North and Carrsbrook Drive at a cost of $4 million (#35)
  • A greenway trail on Moores Creek and a trail hub at 5th Street Station will receive Smart Scale funds and has a total cost of $10 million (#40)
  • A park and ride lot will be constructed near Exit 107 and Crozet Park to serve Jaunt and the future Afton Express at a cost of $3 million (#82)This map depicts location of projects that have received funding since 2019 (Credit: Albemarle County)

McDermott’s purpose for appearing before the supervisors was to get their preliminary support for the next round of transportation projects. At the top of a short list for this year’s cycle of VDOT revenue-sharing funds is the completion Eastern Avenue, a north-south roadway designed to increase connectivity and traffic circulation throughout Crozet. 

“That project is currently being evaluated through an alignment study and conceptual design which the county has funded through our transportation leveraging project,” McDermott said. “We have just recently received the updated cost estimates from that consultant we have hired and their preliminary cost estimates are now at $19,983,000.” 

That would require at least a $10 million match from county funds. However, if approved the state funding would not be available until 2027. 

Another project on the list for potential revenue-sharing projects is one to build bike and pedestrian improvements on Mill Creek Drive to Peregory Lane, a top priority in a recent corridor study. That has a cost estimate of $2 million. 

Applications  for revenue-sharing projects are due this year.  Next year Smart Scale projects will be due. Potential applications to be made next year include a roundabout at District Avenue and Hydraulic Road, a realignment of Hillsdale Drive, and a roundabout at the intersection of Belvedere Boulevard and Rio Road. 

There’s plenty of time to get involved with these applications. Keep reading and stay tuned.

council agrees to bridge funding for belmont bridge

(This article originally appeared as a segment in the May 18, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The main event at Council’s meeting on May 17, 2021 was direction to proceed with a plan to use millions of funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation to cover another cost overrun for the long-planned Belmont Bridge replacement. The project was put out for construction bids in February with a $31 million cost estimate. According to the city’s Urban Construction Initiative manager Jeanette Janiczek, that wasn’t enough money. 

“The lowest responsive, responsible bid can be awarded with existing project funds, however there is a need for additional funding, $4.2 million, to cover contingency, construction inspection services, VDOT oversight, as well as utility relocation,” Janiczek said. 

VDOT has suggested adding funds from its bridge maintenance account, something referred to as State of Good Repair. Janiczek said possible reasons for the higher estimate include inflation, increases in material costs, and potential issues related to the pandemic.

Janiczek said one choice would have been to remove items from the project, such as a pedestrian tunnel on the southern end. 

“Any of these options would result in us having to rebid the project,” Janiczek said. “This adds at least a year in time but most importantly it doesn’t fulfil the commitments we’ve made to the public as well as the Board of Architectural Review.” 

Janiczek if the appropriation of the VDOT goes forward in June, construction could begin this summer. Another public meeting will be held when the contractor is hired to explain how traffic will continue to use the bridge during construction. 

“So once they submit their baseline schedule, we’ll release that to the public and let people know what to expect during construction,” Janiczek said. 

Asked by Council if the project costs could increase, Janiczek said many of the prices for materials would be locked in as soon as the construction contract begins. 

City Manager Chip Boyles said he thought construction costs would increase as the federal government prepares to make billions of investments in infrastructure projects. That’s why he r

“If this project is delayed, we’re already seeing very substantial inflationary projections into the near future,” Boyles said. “If President Biden’s infrastructure package that is in Congress is approved, you will see multiple fold of capital projects underway. If this had to be rebid, I would say that we would end up with less product and at least the same amount or more of the cost.” 

The second reading of the appropriation will be on the consent agenda for Council’s June 7 meeting. They’ll next meet on May 25 to have a work session on the 7th Street Parking garage followed by a May 26 joint meeting with the city School Board on the reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools. 

Council adjourned their meeting before 8 p.m. something that newcomers to city government should never ever expect. 

Proposed apartments for Fifeville draw attention to planned railroad underpass

(This article was originally a segment in the May 11, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Tonight, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will have a joint public hearing with the City Council on a rezoning on a cul-de-sac on the western edge of Fifeville.  A property owner on Valley Road Extended seeks the rezoning and a special use permit to build four apartment units on just under two-thirds of land. The applicant is proffering $48,000 to build a portion of sidewalk and have suggested it could be part of a larger network. (meeting info)

“Sidewalk improvements along the new parcel frontage along Valley Road Extended that ultimately may be incorporated into a more robust pedestrian and bicycle improvement network if the multi-use tunnel under the railroad right of way, as called for in the [2015] Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan,” reads the narrative.

The narrative references a map on page 38 of the plan that depicts many desired projects throughout the city. One of them is this underpass at the northern end of Valley Road Extended.

However, there is no active project planned for such a tunnel at this site to occur, according to city Communications Director Brian Wheeler. In all, there is a distance of 4,500 feet where the railroad bisects the Fifeville neighborhood from the University of Virginia without a pedestrian or vehicular crossing, between Shamrock Road and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. 

The University of Virginia is also not planning for a tunnel at that location, according to its non-voting representative on the Planning Commission. After the city agreed to hand over right of way for the Brandon Avenue corridor, UVA agreed to study for a railroad crossing and settled on a different planning concept closer to Monroe Lane and Paton Street. However, they are not pursuing a crossing at this time but will work with the city on an easement should it choose to proceed.

This map is Charlottesville’s 2015 Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan and can be found on page 38. (download the plan)

Ash trees are in a “state of emergency”

(This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Charlottesville Tree Commission got an update on several topics at its meeting on May 4, including an update on several projects planned for Charlottesville’s McIntire Park. 

“In McIntire Park there are three projects going on that are really private-public partnerships,” said Peggy Van Yahres, a member of the Tree Commission.

Van Yahres is part of one project to install a memorial grove in McIntire Park to commemorate people who have been awarded the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s citizenship award. 

“We wanted to preserve the landmark oak trees  on the top of McIntire Park on the east side,” Van Yahres said. “The other objective was just to enliven the park and make it a better place for people to go and sit underneath these beautiful trees.” 

The memorial would be a stone terrace on which the names of the past and future award winners would be displayed. 

“There will be a beautiful lawn, people can play, a walkway, and of course, a lot more oak trees to continue the tradition,” Van Yahres said. 

Van Yahres said the grove has been added to the schematic design for the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont. That’s the new name for the nonprofit that entered into a memorandum of agreement with the City of Charlottesville to operate in the northeast section of McIntire Park. She said the grove will hopefully be installed by this fall. 

A rendering of the proposed Grove in McIntire Park. Learn more on the Chamber and Grove website.

As for the garden, Jill Trischman-Marks is executive director of the newly renamed organization. There was a naming contest.

“We had over two hundred responses and selected Botanical Garden of the Piedmont because it was precise and concise,” Trischman-Marks said. “It not only identified where the garden is located but it also talked about the trees and other plants that will be highlighted in this garden.” 

The nonprofit is on the hook to raise funds to pay for infrastructure and to install the garden.

“The city of Charlottesville has dedicated the land to this project but that’s where the taxpayer burden ends,” Trischman-Marks said. “All of the funds that are needed to design, construct, and maintain the garden will be privately raised but once it is built just like any other city park, the Botanical Garden will be free and accessible to all.” 

Trischman-Marks said the plan for the garden is to utilize native species and demonstrate the ecosystem of our area. You can weigh in on a survey they have listed on their website

“And share the survey with your friends, families, and neighbors because the more feedback we get, the better this garden will be,” Trischman-Marks said

Trischman-Marks will update the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on Tuesday.

The third project is a more low-key initiative from the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards to plant new specimens. 

Later in the meeting, the Tree Commission got an update on plans to fight the Emerald Ash Borer from the city arborist, Mike Ronayne.

“The Emerald Ash borer is an invasive insect from Siberia and it will be killing all of our untreated ash trees in Charlottesville,” Ronayne said. “And now it seems like it’s come through other parts of Virginia like northern Virginia and now we’re really just starting to deal with all the dead ash trees that we’re finding in Charlottesville.”

The goal is to protect 31 individual trees in the city, and have sought additional funding from City Council for the purpose and to remove the dead trees. About one to two percent of trees in the city’s parkland are ash trees. A draft cost estimate to remove the trees over five years is $480,000. That does not cover the cost of planting replacements. The cost to annually treat those 31 trees will be $8,425 a year. Todd Brown is the city’s director of parks and recreation.

“Basically this is a state of emergency situation,” Brown said. “These trees are dying. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to die and right now we’ve been hitting at a tiny fraction of them. For everyone we’re doing, there are ten more that need to be done and ten more that die. We’re chasing a moving target that’s eventually going to stop and eventually we are going to have to catch up to it.” 

Brown said that presents a safety issue and more and more limbs become prone to falling. For more on the Emerald Ash Borer, take a look at the Virginia Department of Forestry website. The agency is offering a cost share program for individual removals. (learn more)

The woods shroud this dead Ash tree near Crozet. The homeowner took advantage of the Virginia Department of Forestry cost-share program to help treat some of its fellow specimens, but this one was too far gone. (Credit: Grace Reynolds)

RWSA briefed on reservoir-connecting waterline, reservoir health

(This article was initially published as part of the May 11, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

One of the largest capital expenses facing any governmental entity in the community is the nine and a half mile waterline the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has planned. Long planned, the line will connect the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Ragged Mountain is currently fed by a pipeline from Sugar Hollow Reservoir, one that is nearing a hundred years old. The new waterline won’t be built for several more years, but the RWSA has been acquiring the right of way for the project. Executive Director Bill Mawyer gave his Board an update on April 27, 2021.

“The Albemarle County School Board granted about a one mile easement for the Rivanna to Ragged Mountain project this month,” Mawyer said. 

In all, the RWSA has easements for about six of the 9.5 miles and is in negotiations with the University of Foundation and private property owners for the rest. The RWSA has a 40 year lease with the city of Charlottesville to operate the Ragged Mountain reservoir which expires in 2052. There’s talk already of extending those terms given the community investment in the water supply plan.

“So as an example based on our current schedule, we would finish the new pipeline say around 2033, and then in effect we would only have 20 years left on the lease of a major water supply facility that we’ve just spent a lot of money on to expand and build the pipeline so we can fill it,” Mawyer said. 

Easement map for the alignment of the South Fork to Rivanna Reservoir waterline

The RWSA Board also got an update on the health of the five reservoirs maintained by the authority.  Their usable storage volume is updated every ten years according to water resources manager Andrea Bowles.

“We get this information from our bathymetries that we do,” Bowles said. “We do bathymetries for the urban system reservoirs every ten years.”

One of the concerns is the presence of algae in reservoirs, which can lead to oxygen depletion that threatens aquatic life. Each of the five reservoirs has a slightly different balance and Bowles explained how algae is managed. Beaver Creek Reservoir is currently the one most prone to blooms. There were five at the Crozet waterway in 2020, but none of them were problematic enough to require treatment. 

“That is the reservoir that we’re going to do an alternative of hypolimnetic oxygenation to try to help with blooms,” Bowles said. 

An algae bloom at Ragged Mountain Reservoir is underway and treatment was expected to begin last week. 

“We are having an issue with an algae called dinobryon which is a golden algae, not a blue-green algae, it doesn’t produce the toxins,” Bowles said. “We have that right now going on in Ragged Mountain. It is a big taste and odor producer and we have a threshold and it is slightly over the threshold.” 

The RWSA next meets on May 25. 

A snapshot of the usable storage volumes for the five RWSA reservoirs