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.
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.
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  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.
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.
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.”
Preparations continue for a study of how transit could work better in Albemarle County. Some fixed-route service is provided by Charlottesville Area Transit, which is owned by the City of Charlottesville. Jaunt provides fixed-route service between Crozet and Charlottesville as well as paratransit service throughout the region.
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is shepherding a Regional Transit Vision as well as a study of additional service to serve Albemarle’s urban areas. A kick-off meeting for the study will take place in early June. Jessica Hersh-Ballering is a planner with the TJPDC. She spoke at the April 22 meeting of the Regional Transit Partnership.
“This is a project to determine the best way to expand transit service to three priority locations in Albemarle, and those priority locations are Pantops, north 29, and Monticello,” Hersh-Ballering said. “The goal is to apply for funding to implement that service in fiscal year 2023.”
To do that, the study will need to be completed, including public review, in order to apply for a demonstration grant by next February.
Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel is the chair of the Regional Transit Partnership.
“I just have a comment, Jessica,” McKeel said. “I looked at that February date in February and thought, wow, that is a tight timeline but I’m sure you all have figured it out.”
The University Transit System is a member of the Regional Transit Partnership and they updated community officials on the results of a recent passenger survey. The pandemic skewed ridership last year, with almost 90 percent of people taking shuttle routes to the Health Complex, a figure that was 57.25 percent in 2019. Academic routes usually make up just over forty percent ridership, but that dropped to ten percent last year.
The University Transit System is completely separate from Charlottesville Area Transit, but does offer some service on some streets in the City of Charlottesville.
“We are the public provider on 14th Street, Grady, Rugby, Arlington, Massey,” said Becca White, the director of Parking and Transportation at UVA. “People who have been around long enough know that CAT used to serve some of those corridors and were able to concentrate elsewhere while UTS agreed to be the public provider on those corridors.”
However, Charlottesville Area Transit said they are in talks with UTS about whether that will continue.
CAT Senior Project Steve MacNally told the Regional Transit Partnership about upcoming capital projects, including the potential for a transit hub and park and ride lot on U.S. 29. They’re looking for a suitable two acre lot.
“I’ve been busy looking at some vacant or unoccupied properties, looking at right of way issues, the access to those, and a number of other criteria,” MacNally said.
CAT is about to begin work on two studies of its own. One will look at the need for future facilities and a more dedicated look at the park and ride possibility with the firm Kimley Horn.
In response to a question from White, CAT director Garland Williams said he has not been in touch with anyone from the University of Virginia Foundation, which owns many properties in the 29 North corridor, including the North Fork Research Park.
“This is our kickoff to bring all those elements together, so the study is really going to look at whether the corridor itself is ripe for transit,” Williams said. “We do believe that it is.”
Williams added this could help CAT increase ridership which would in turn bring in more funding.
“Initially we have looked at potentially the airport to [the University of Virginia] as the initial corridor of looking at, kind of the route, but that’s up for discussion as we’re working with our consultant,” Williams said.
The work by Kimley Horn is separate from the work being done by the TJPDC on behalf of Albemarle County. Williams said the work is complementary and will function together. A third transit-related land use study in the same geographical area is a potential relocation of Albemarle school bus fleet to land somewhere in the U.S. 29 corridor.
Christine Jacobs, the interim director of the TJPDC, said the conversation was a sign of the role the Regional Transit Partnership can play.
“I think this is really exciting because there’s a lot of synergy and coordination that is occurring between some of these corridors and I just want to make sure I remind you that the PDC we will also be doing through the MPO in their North 29 study corridor from Airport Road all the way up into Greene,” Jacobs said.
The long-awaited construction of the Belmont Bridge in Charlottesville will not begin this spring, and City Council might be briefed on Monday about how to move the long-planned project forward. Several firms submitted bids in time for the March 16, 2021 but the city has not released any further information at this time.
“The submitted bid proposals for the Belmont Bridge replacement are being evaluated by the City staff and its consultant in accordance with the planned project scope,” reads an email from Brian Wheeler, the city’s director of communications. “This evaluation also includes consideration of the project’s planned budget.”
The current bridge was built in 1962, and city staff recommended in April 2009 that it should be replaced rather than repaired. The firm MMM Design was hired to conduct the design process for what was then a project with a $9 million cost estimate. But there was a fierce public debate about whether the bridge should even be replaced, or if a tunnel underneath the railroad tracks should proceed. MMM Design went out of business soon after Council selected to go with a bridge in July 2014.
Soon after that, the firm Kimley Horn was selected and began a new review in April 2017. Last August, Council voted to authorize $15.26 million in federal and state funding for the project, which by then had a $31 million cost estimate. At least $7.5 million of that amount are city capital improvement funds. The project was advertised for construction bids earlier this year, but the process is now stalled pending new direction from Council.
“A recommendation for moving forward is being developed, as are possible options,” Wheeler wrote.
Check tomorrow to see if the item is on the City Council’s agenda for the May 3 meeting.
Earlier this year, City Council agreed to transfer federal funding that had been allocated to add a sidewalk on Franklin Street, which serves as part of its eastern border with Albemarle County. The project was within the jurisdiction of a task force that was put together to recommend projects eligible for Community Development Block Grant funding distributed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Erin Atak is a grants coordinator with the city of Charlottesville.
“This is funding that’s issued by HUD,” Atak said. “These are federal funds that the city receives each year as an entitlement community.”
The city selects a neighborhood every three years to receive the money for infrastructure and a task force is put together to make recommendations to Council. One recent project funded through this process is a pocket park in the 10th and Neighborhood. The current neighborhood receiving funds is the Ridge Street neighborhood. The Belmont task force last met in February 12, 2019.
“And in this case, the Belmont Priority Neighborhood [Task Force] recommended to City Council the Franklin Street sidewalk which was approved to create a new sidewalk on the west side between north Moores Creek Lane and Nassau Street, which was approximately 1,600 feet of new sidewalk.”
This process is separate from the city’s sidewalk priority process. The Belmont neighborhood was allocated a total of $449,214 and the sidewalk made up a portion of that amount.
Tim Motsch is a transportation project manager with the city, hired in the summer of 2017.
“Myself and Kyle Kling were hired in order to manage transportation projects including the sidewalks which I have been involved in as well as Smart Scale projects that I’ve been involved in such as the East High Streetscape and the Emmet Streetscape.”
More on those projects in a future newsletter. For now, Motsch explained that design for the Frankin Street sidewalk began in late 2018 when the engineering firm A. Morton Thomas was hired to do the work. Complications happened.
“It is a challenging plan from the point of the view of stormwater management depending on which map you look at and which datum you refer to, the sidewalk is either right next to the floodplain or in the floodplain,” Motsch said.
That delayed the design for the project, which included the need to purchase easements from landowners on which mitigating features and drainafe could be built. The pandemic’s effect on the city’s budget also led to a delay.
“Add to the fact that last year, for several months all sidewalk projects were on hold due to the possibility of having to use city funds,” Motsch said.
Construction is now slated for next spring, but that’s if the right of way can be acquired from around a dozen property owners.
However, Atak explained that HUD has time limits by which its money can be spent and this project did not make the deadline.
“Normally funds are required to be spent within one year of receiving CDBG dollars,” Atak said.
In February, Council transferred the funding to a rent relief initiative for public housing, but Atak said the funding will be restored on July 1, 2022. Everything has to be in place for the project to move forward.
“It’s very important that we receive public support with the right of way moving forward so that we can secure this funding and there aren’t any delays moving forward,” Atak said.
Atak said HUD has already issued a warning on the project.
Motsch said a round of certified letters are being sent out to property owners this week for negotiations, and that the city wants to avoid taking properties by condemnation. One of the abutting landowners is Sunshine Court, which owns a six and a half acre mobile home park on Carlton Avenue. The property has a land value of $2.4 million.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have begun their detailed review of the recommended $466 million budget for fiscal year 2022. The season has been slightly extended this year with adoption scheduled for May 5 after a series of work sessions. On Wednesday, the Board began with a look at the operating budget and began recommending potential things to add or to cut. Andy Bowman is the chief of budget.
“Fiscal year 22 is really going to be a transitional budget,” Bowman said. “Our economy is stabilizing but it has not stabilized. Our community is adapting as our circumstances change and people are impacted by the pandemic in very different ways.”
On Monday, they’ll talk about the school budget and next Thursday they’ll talk about public safety. At the Thursday meeting, they will also set a maximum tax rate for advertisement if they decide to increase from the current $0.854 per $100 of assessed value. County Executive Jeff Richardson’s recommended budget proposes no increase.
But on Wednesday, Bowman told the supervisors that the transitional budget is intended to prepare for a post-pandemic world.
“So even this is a transitionary budget, we had to reflect in making recommendations on what are those things we can do to build a bridge now to make sure that we are an even more resilient organization and community when we reach the other side of our future?”
This year’s budget is 17 percent higher than the current fiscal year, and Bowman said a lot of that is due to a larger capital improvement plan.
“The board may recall at the state of the Fiscal Year 21 budget, many capital projects have been put on hold and some of those have been restarted and that certainly plays into that as well,” Bowman said.
Since Richardson unveiled his budget in late February, the General Assembly adopted a state budget. Bowman said staff are continuing to review how that might affect Albemarle’s budget, so there may still be adjustments based on new revenues. They’re also reviewing the American Rescue Plan to find out that affect the budget.
“In my mind, I think of this as almost another round of the CARES coronavirus relief funds that were received in the last calendar year,” Bowman said.
The recommended budget does not include any of those federal funds, and budget staff are checking to see what the rules for their usage will be. Virginia is expected to receive $6.8 billion for state and local aid from the ARP, according to the Associated Press.
The county is putting $3 million in one-time funds toward expanding broadband in Albemarle and by creating an Office of Broadband Access. Supervisors directed staff to go in that direction in a joint meeting with the Albemarle Broadband Authority on February 17. Trevor Henry is the assistant county executive.
“We all experienced the tsunami of internet need that occurred over the past year and really we have all been in that mode since a year ago,” Henry said.
Henry said that even households that thought they had good access to broadband taxed their connections when almost every group event went online.
“And so the work that has come since a year ago has only intensified the critical needs and we have a lot of opportunities in front of us now to do some meaningful work,” Henry said. “We have programs at the federal, state and local level.”
Some of the work will be to pay for the “last mile” where clusters of structures are near a fiber line but their owners may not be able to afford to make the connection. Details of the program will come back to the board later this spring. But to make it work, staff will also need to be hired.
“The addition of an operations person, an administrator, will help us set up purchase orders, taking care of all of the billing, taking citizen requests, responding, tracking that data,” Henry said. “Those kinds of metrics, making sure that the action items on all of the various meetings related to broadband get tracked and captured and we’re working to executive them.”
Albemarle will also work on an effort to help people pay for the service once.
Supervisors were all supportive of the recommendations to move forward.
Both Louisa and Nelson have announced plans to move toward universal broadband through public-private partnerships with electric cooperatives. Earlier this month, the Louisa Board of Supervisors announced a $15 million investment. There’s a meeting today facilitated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to see how the model being used in Louisa and Nelson can be expanded to cover what’s known as the “middle mile.” Legislation to allow Dominion and Appalachian Power to expand their broadband efforts passed the General Assembly this year and awaits action by Governor Ralph Northam. (HB1923)
The work session also covered public safety. Supervisor Diantha McKeel observed that new legislation requires localities to change the way service calls related to mental health crises are handled.
“I know there’s some discussion about creating a team between so the police don’t have to respond by themselves to many of our mental health calls,” McKeel said. “There’s nothing in the budget Andy right now around that initiative.”
Bowman confirmed that and suggested Police Chief Ron Lantz will be giving an update on that in the near future.
Another new expense in the budget is the hiring of five people to staff the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company during the day with fire and rescue service by the fall of 2022.
“Currently there are no county staff down there, they are entirely volunteer,” Bowman said. “We received a letter from them in the fall requesting supplemental staffing during the weekday daytime.
The budget also includes purchase of an ambulance for the North Garden department. Bowman said that over the past four budgets, the county has added 32 full-time equivalents to fire and rescue. Some of those positions have been supported by grants from the federal government and to increase coverage to meet the needs of a growing population.
A more in-depth discussion of public safety budgetary issues will be held at the March 18 work session. On March 22, they will talk in detail about transit. Charlottesville Area Transit had requested $1.47 million but the draft budget only recommends a million. Albemarle would contribute $6,137 a year for the new Afton Express and $2.18 million for Jaunt.
CAT provided an update on proposed route changes at the February 24 Regional Transit Partnership.
“In fiscal year 21, there are two studies that are taking through the Regional Transit Partnership,” Bowman said. “One of those is a longer-term regional transit vision plan and the other one is funded in 21 looking at some Albemarle specific transit services and we’ll be looking to what comes from that report for FY23 and beyond.”
Supervisors wanted more information on several things, including current response times for North Garden, the status of daytime staffing of the Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company, the and cost of operating the future Biscuit Run county park.
At their meeting on February 16, Council was briefed on a plan to remedy the city’s noncompliance with a mandate from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to spend previously funding on a timely basis. Erin Atak is the city’s grants coordinator.
“City staff had identified an immediate program for funding to solve the city’s timeliness concerns by May 2,” Atak said. “The city has unexpended 2019 [Community Development Block Grant] entitlement funds totaling $244,950.82 from the delayed Belmont /Franklin sidewalk activity.”
That project came about when Belmont was the city’s Priority Neighborhood but has not moved forward due to COVID as well as difficulty securing space for the project.
“Right now we’re having a lot of issues achieving right of way,” Atak said. “We have reached out ot the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association and the Belmont CDBG Task Force with help on this and they are pretty motivated to help.”
Atak has recommended that the money instead be used for COVID-relief programs and the sidewalk project would be financed by the federal government again in the future. A previously approved rental relief program for public housing residents will now get the additional funds in the short-term.
This item will be included on the consent agenda for the March 1 Council meeting.