One of several major transportation projects intended to make Charlottesville an easier place to bike or walk passed a milestone last week. In 2017, the city was awarded $8.6 million in Virginia Department of Transportation Smart Scale funds for a project at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street. The design public hearing was held on July 7, 2021.
“The purpose of the project is to improve the operational performance of the Barracks Road and Emmet Street intersection while also enhancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities serving the adjacent neighborhoods,” said the narrator of a presentation shown at the virtual meeting. (watch the full presentation)
The work will include a new northbound right-turn lane on Emmet Street, an additional west-bound left-hand turn lane on Barracks Road, upgraded traffic signals, increased medians, and a shared-use path up Barracks Road. Part of the work will involve something called a “pedestrian refuge” to allow slower walkers to cross Emmet Street and take a break.
“The scope of bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Barracks Road were less somewhat less defined which provided an opportunity to involve local citizens in the early planning and decision-making process,” the presentation continued.
One man expressed concern that this plan seemed to have come from nowhere and that it may not actually work.
“This has been a long time question for me about Charlottesville and planning and development,” said Joel Bass. “How do we actually develop in this town without working with [the University of Virginia] and getting feedback from them on their plans?”
Bass said what was needed from westbound Barracks Road was a right-hand lane.
Before we hear from city staff, some background. In 1986, Albemarle, Charlottesville and UVA signed a Three Party Agreement and until 2019 there was a public body known as the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) where projects and planning were discussed in the open. Since late 2019, a private body called the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee meets and those events are closed to the public. This LUEPC group last met on June 25, 2021 and there is one page of minutes. (read those minutes)
Back to the Barracks/Emmet project. There is a steering committee that includes a member of the UVA Office of the Architect and those meetings are open to the public. Kyle Kling in Charlottesville’s public works department.
“In our department, we meet quarterly with the University to discuss projects the city is administering as well as projects that the University has throughout their Grounds and during those conversations we always discuss how things will trend during the future and how projects may supplement each other so that coordination is ongoing,” Kling said.
Two other Smart Scale projects are in the planning states to the south on Emmet Street. The Emmet Street Streetscape had its design public hearing in December 2019. The Commonwealth Transportation Board just approved $20.6 million in funding for a second phase of that project that would span between Arlington Boulevard and Barracks Road.
There was some concern at the public hearing about the shared-use path that will travel about a third of a mile up the hill on Barracks Road to Buckingham and Hill Top roads. Gregory Kastner was appreciative to get a dedicated facility, but had a question about how that fits into a larger network.
“As you’re on the bike lane coming up the road, how does that transition to the current sidewalk?” Kastner asked. “With it ending at Hill Top, there’s still a fair bit of up to go where the rider is going to be going pretty slow and it really wouldn’t be a great place to get dumped out on the road.”
Kastner said he hoped the scope of the project extended up to Rugby Road where the hill flattens.
Kling said in the short-term, a sharrow would be painted on the road in the short-term as VDOT has strict rules about extending Smart Scale projects past the boundaries outlined in their initial application.
“I do know that there are some plans in the works on the city’s end to kind of continue bike and pedestrian upgrades further into town along this stretch,” Kling said.
About another two-thirds of a mile up Barracks Road is another Smart Scale project to address the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue. That project has also not yet begun.
Next steps for the project include final approval by City Council this summer and completion of the design in the winter of 2022. If all goes according to schedule, construction would begin in the spring of 2023.