Category Archives: Infrastructure updates

Both CAT and Regional Transit Partnership studying ways to improve serve in northern Albemarle

(This article originally appeared in the April 27, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement. Subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode!)

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. 

An image from the recent UTS ridership survey (download)

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. 

Belmont Bridge update: No bids have qualified yet

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. 

This is the way the finances for the project pencil out in Virginia’s Draft Six-Year Improvement Program for FY22. Take a look!

An update on Franklin Street sidewalk

(This story initially appeared in the April 19, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

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. 

Albemarle Supervisors begin detailed review of $466 million budget

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.” 

Budget schedule for FY22

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. 

Regional Transit Partnership meets for first time in 2021

All localities in the Thomas Jefferson Planning district except Nelson County experienced population growth in the last decade. To reduce the likelihood of traffic congestion, local governments and organizations are seeking ways to improve transit service throughout the community. 

Last week, the Regional Transit Partnership held its first meeting of the year. One of the first actions was to allow a group called the Charlottesville Area Alliance to sit on the body as a non-voting member. Jessica Hersh-Ballering is a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 

“The Charlottesville Area Alliance was formed in 2016 to lead the advancement of an age-friendly community,” Hersh-Ballering said. “Working with Albemarle and Fluvanna counties and the city of Charlottesville, they successfully applied to be a member of the AARP and World Health Organization’s age-friendly network to bring best practices to our area.” 

This year, work will begin to create a vision for regional transit, as well as a second study to determine how to increase bus service in Albemarle County on U.S. 29 North, Pantops and Monticello. The TJPDC has issued a request for proposals for a technical consultant to do work that is partially paid for through grants from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. 

Hersh-Ballering said study just got under way and the goal is to wrap it up in ten months in order to qualify for a different funding stream. 

“That timeline is really strict because we’re hoping the implementation plan will put a transit provider in the position to apply for a demonstration funding with the next round of funding applications from the DRPT,” Hersh-Ballering said. 

Currently, Albemarle pays Charlottesville Area Transit for fixed-route service. All but one routes currently terminate at the Downtown Transit Center. 

Hersh-Ballering said the regional transit vision will recommend where different types of transit should be ranging from express, high-frequency local, low-frequency local, and on-demand. 

“The corridor specific service recommendations are intended to be a visual document like a map that uses the initial work product to determine what type of transit service can be best supported on each corridor in the region,” Hersh-Ballering said. “If that sounds really familiar, that’s because that’s very similar to what Richmond did in their vision plan.”

The Richmond plan was endorsed by the Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization in April 2017. 

The RTP also heard details about potential changes to Charlottesville Area Transit routes. Read a story by Allison Wrabel in the Daily Progress

(This article first appeared in the March 2, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

CDBG-funded Franklin Street sidewalk to be delayed

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.

Council seeks additional information on West Main Streetscape

The prospect of the West Main Streetscape being implemented is still alive as City Council still wants more information about how the project could be salvaged. The project was split into four phases in order to secure funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation, but staff has recommended not fully funding the project. 

Council has not made several final decisions about the proposed $160 million Capital Improvement Program for the next fiscal year and the four years that come after it. That amount also includes $8 million for a 300-space parking deck as well as a $50 million placeholder for reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools. 

“There certainly is a lot of unknowns when we think about going into the future of the CIP especially when we think about schools and not knowing the scope of what they’re going to be [doing],” said City Councilor Heather Hill. “And also thinking about the parking deck situation and what options we may have.” 

Councilor Lloyd Snook said he felt the city was at a point where it should proceed with West Main Street in a fashion similar to Council voting to proceed with the pedestrianization of East Main Street in 1974. 

“The more I have thought about it, the more I have thought the future of the city is going to be along the axis between downtown and the University and we ought to be spending our time, our energy, and our resources on that area,” Snook said. 

Snook said he was less inclined to support the parking garage. 

Mayor Walker said budget staff have been clear that the city is running into its debt capacity and the city should proceed cautiously. 

“I just don’t know how we are rating West Main Street and still thinking that is a must and that it must continue at this time when we’re talking about things like housing and schools,” Walker said. 

Snook said he has been persuaded by arguments that at least $3 million in maintenance improvements are needed on West Main Street. 

Councilor Hill said believed the city has made an investment in West Main and should see the project through. 

“The biggest thing is just the other dollars coming from other sources that are not the city, and there’s not a lot of projects where we find those opportunities,” Hill said. 

Those external sources include $5 million from the University of Virginia and the potential $10.8 million in VDOT Smart Scale funds for Phase 3 of the West Main Streetscape. Phases 1 and 2 require a local match in order for the city to draw down Smart Scale Funds and revenue-sharing funds already approved.

“I’m really struggling with just closing the door on this,” Hill said. 

The draft CIP contains a placeholder of $50 million in FY24 for the school reconfiguration.

Walker said would prefer to keep some of the debt capacity available for future needs. 

“If we okay West Main at this point, we are limiting schools to an amount because we are boxing ourselves in,” Walker said. “And then everything else that comes up as a result of this pandemic and how long we’re in it, then we are also restricting ourselves there.” 

Councilor Michael Payne said he supported the vision of the West Main project, but could not support prioritizing that over schools or affordable housing. He said he would support the city paying for the bare minimum and losing some of the Smart Scale funding due to the debt capacity issue. 

“We’re in the same situation where we could eliminate our city funding of West Main Street, and the parking garage, and we still even then wouldn’t be that close to getting our CIP budget on a sustainable level,” Payne said. He also said he would like to continue conversations with the School Board about the reconfiguration project due the large amount of money required to pay for the capital costs. 

A firm is working with the school board to further refine the cost estimates for school reconfiguration. There was also interest in getting more information about various scenarios for West Main, including incorporating some of the results of a recent value engineering study.  Councilor Snook had this idea.

“One of my thoughts is that we have a brand new city manager, and let’s let him put his creative thoughts to work and see if he’s got some ideas for us,” Snook said. 

City Manager Chip Boyles said he would have a conversation with VDOT about when Phase 1 and Phase 2 need to get underway to stay within the six-year deadline required of Smart Scale. Jack Dawson, the city engineer, said the right of way phase is expected to begin this July to keep the project on VDOT’s schedule. 

“There is some urgency about what direction we think we may need to go in, sooner or later, for sure,” Dawson said. 

Vice Mayor Sena Magill said she would support reducing the scope of the project.

“What can we do with just the revenue-sharing match?” Magill asked. “There’s a lot extra that is on top of what we need for our revenue-sharing match.”

Council agreed to wait on a final decision on West Main until they have more information on options. David Brown is the city’s public works director.

“We do have some time to where we can look and evaluate to make a determination,” Brown said. “For the project, we can evaluate and make an assessment, rescope the project that still meets the requirements of the funding sources so we still have that opportunity.” 

Boyles said he would prepare options for Council to consider. 

“We can get enough information to come back to you with some concepts and maybe even some recommendations and staff can continue to keep working forward,” Boyles said. “It won’t be that much wasted effort based on whatever your decision is in later March or April.”

The FY22 operating and capital budget will be presented to Council on March 1. The first public hearing is scheduled for March 15. Budget adoption will be roughly a month later. 

(This article was first posted in the February 22, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Regional body says goodbye to outgoing director on his way to Charlottesville

(This story was originally published in the February 8, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

On Monday, February 15, Chip Boyles will officially become Charlottesville’s City Manager. On February 4, the Board of Commissioners of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission said goodbye to Boyles in his capacity as their executive director. He has been there since April 2014.  Greene County Supervisor Dale Herring is Chair of the TJPDC Board and he read from a proclamation.

“Whereas the influence and reputation of the TJPDC and the quality of programs and services during Chip’s tenure has been greatly enhanced by the vision, skills, and passion he brought to TJPDC’s mission, therefore be it resolved that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission expresses enduring gratitude and appreciation for the generous and faithful service provided to the TJPDC and this region by Chip Boyles.” 

Dale Herring

Commissioner Keith Smith of Fluvanna County said Boyles took over at a time when the TJPDC had opted to not renew the contract of a previous director. 

“We were in a bad way and just to do a 180, it was purely upon his skill, his leadership, and that funny accent of his, people apparently trust him,” Smith said. “Who knew?”

Charlottesville City Councilor Michael Payne said he appreciated the comments from other TJPDC Commissioners. 

“I’m just incredibly excited to work with Chip going forward and I think there are really bright days ahead for the region as a whole,” Payne said. 

Nelson County Supervisor Jesse Rutherford praised Boyles’ optimism but also made a threat in jest. 

“Michael and you all, I’m just saying,” Rutherford said. “My threat out there of saying that if this doesn’t go well, we will ban all fruit products and beverages from going into Charlottesville from Nelson County. That’s a serious one and whoever the reporter is in here, write that down!” 

Rutherford also sounded a more positive tone. 

“We look forward to the success of Charlottesville,” Rutherford said. “That is not only important to Nelson County but the region. I can’t say this enough, but we have sent you our best, alright?” 

One of TJPDC’s achievements with Boyles in charge is the creation of the Regional Transit Partnership, a gathering of various agencies that has spent the last few years laying out the foundation for a more integrated system. Recently the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) awarded TJPDC a grant to help build more of the framework.

“This award is $175,000 for the development of a regional plan as recommended by the Regional Transit Partnership,” Jacobs said. “There is a match for this of $175,000 to be provided both by Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville over two fiscal years.” 

This plan will involve coordination between Charlottesville Area Transit, the University Transit Service, JAUNT and Albemarle County. The DRPT also awarded a $106,500 grant to TJPDC to study expansion of transit in Albemarle. The county will have to pay half of that as a match. 

“This study is to develop the financial feasibility of new transit services in three different areas,” Jacobs said. “Route 29 north, Monticello, and Pantops.”

The TJPDC also coordinates regional priorities for Community Development Block Grants. Applications to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development from non-urban localities are due on March 26. 

“As of the end of January, we’ve already been notified of one project in Louisa County for a planning and infrastructure grant for affordable housing,” Jacobs said. “We know of a Nelson County potential grant for downtown revitalization of Lovingston. We have Albemarle County acquisition and redevelopment for an affordable housing project. And Scottsville has a redevelopment project going on.” 

The Virginia DHCD is now directly administering a rent and mortgage relief program to assist households during the pandemic, but the TJPDC was in charge of the program in the second half of calendar year 2020. 

“We were awarded a total grant of $1.8 million dollars for the region [and] $1.624 million of that went directly to pay for rent and mortgage relief for qualifying families,” Jacobs said. “That was 570 families in this region who were served with an average of $2,000 rent per household.”

The state program is not covering additional mortgage payments at this time, but are still accepting applications for rent relief. Visit their website if you or someone you know needs assistance

Locally, the TJPDC has launched an online portal called Porch Light that allows people to find affordable housing opportunities. 

“If you know people who have rental properties, direct them to our website and they can go directly to the site,” Boyles said. “We need landlords to list their properties. It’s free. It’s easy.”

Chip Boyles (lower right) presided over his final TJPDC meeting

Nelson County Supervisor Rutherford said the COVID pandemic has brought a real sense of urgency about housing. 

“We’re going to be doing some hard soul-searching in Nelson County and what it is we can do to get some economies of scale and some more dense housing,” Rutherford said. 

Rutherford said he is aware that some newcomers to the area are choosing Nelson due to the provision of more broadband Internet. He said he has a tenant who works in Crystal City and commutes twice a week. 

“We’re going to see some major culture changes in our workforce and in how we operate on a business level,” Rutherford said.

(watch the whole TJPDC meeting here)

VDOT enters into land conservation agreement for Monarch butterfly habitat

The Virginia Department of Transportation is participating in a program that seeks to help provide a safer journey for winged creatures that majestically migrate across the Commonwealth. Angel Deem is the director of VDOT’s environmental division and she spoke before the Commonwealth Transportation Board on January 19. 

“So I’m happy to present to the Board today an overview of what’s termed the Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conversation Agreement with Assurances,” Deem said. “That’s a long title and its shortened up to CCAA.”

CCAA is a program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that works with other government agencies to conserve land for at-risk species, such as the Monarch butterfly. Deem said the goal is to conserve millions of acres of land across the nation that are currently being used by state highway agencies and land used to produce energy. Another specific goal is to plant milkweed on 2.3 million acres. 

Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services updated the endangered species list, and the Monarch is listed as “warranted but precluded.” Deem explains. 

“What they mean by precluded is that there are other priority listings ahead of this one so they are essentially going to put it on hold if you will and continue to monitor its progress,” Deem said. 

Progress would be made if existing habitats aren’t threatened to be converted to some other uses. The use of pesticides and mowing of state right of way are other threats. 

“Those things are impacting the available foraging and breeding habitat for the Monarch,” Deem said. 

Under the CCAA, VDOT would agree to taking several conservation measures. 

“We would do some specific seeding and planting and brush removal to encourage suitable habitat for the Monarch,” Deem said. “We would also participate in what’s called conservation mowing, allowing food sources to be available to develop for the Monarch as well as breeding sites.”

VDOT entered into the agreement last November and the goal in the first year will be to apply the measures to 1,567 acres. Deem said VDOT has already achieved that goal and is now making progress towards the five year goal of doubling that amount. For more information on the program, watch the entire presentation on YouTube. (view the slides)

This post was originally made in the January 22, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement.

Area Smart Scale projects recommended for funding in fourth round

A data-driven application process has recommended funding for several major projects in the area, including $24.6 million for improvements at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road. This also includes nearly $8 million for the third phase of the West Main Streetscape in Charlottesville. Both are recommended for funding under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process, which ranks projects according to a series of metrics including congestion relief, public safety, and economic development. 

Source: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

Albemarle and Charlottesville are both within VDOT’s Culpeper District. 

“Culpeper gets a total of 20 projects recommended for funding for a total of $166.9 million dollars,” said Chad Tucker with the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment. 

Smart Scale was put in place after nearly $230 million was spent on several projects to address congestion on U.S. 29 including construction of Berkmar Drive Extended and a grade-separated intersection at 29 and Rio Road. Smart Scale is now in its fourth round and nothing is final until the Commonwealth Transportation Board takes a vote in June. Under the recommended scenario, the Hydraulic project received the highest score in the Culpeper District. 

“That will really augment the investments that have been done at Rio in helping to keep traffic moving efficiently and safely along the U.S. 29 corridor in the Charlottesville,” Tucker said. 

Projects recommended for funding in Albemarle include $11 million in Route 250 East Corridor Improvements, $8.5 million for safety improvements at the intersection of Old Lynchburg Road and 5th Street Extended, a roundabout at the intersection of the John Warner Parkway and East Rio Road, and a $7.5 million for a roundabout and other safety improvements at the intersection of Route 20 and Route 53.

Projects recommended for funding in Charlottesville include $5 million for a project to increase safety on Ridge Street, $6.1 million for improvements at the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenuea second phase of multimodal improvements on Emmet Street, in addition to phase 3 of the streetscape.

Council has been waiting for the results of Smart Scale before making a long-term decision about the future of the West Main Streetscape, which was broken into multiple phases in 2017 after a previous Smart Scale application to cover the whole cost did not qualify for funding in the second round. A portion of the project was covered in the third Smart Scale round. 

A roundabout at Troy Road and Route 250 in Fluvanna County has also been recommended for funding. 

“I think Culpeper did a very good job of having targeted improvements that are addressing safety in congestion hotspots throughout the district,” Tucker said. 

More on this as the weeks and months continue. For a more complete picture, be on the look-out for a story from Allison Wrabel in the Daily Progress.

Source: Virginia Department of Transportation

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