The final project in what’s known as Route29 Solutions is making its way through the last steps of the planning process. Last week, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board got an update on the status for a future project that includes five separate components at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road.
“We’ve kind of gotten to a situation right now where we’re over budget based on updated estimates and some of the things that we’ve looked at it,” said Sean Nelson, the administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.
In July, more than 110,000 passenger rides were taken on Amtrak trains whose cost is partially covered through the Commonwealth of Virginia. Amtrak released figures for July this week and that month was the first with two new roundtrip services including an additional train between Roanoke and D.C. that serves Charlottesville.
Around 27,375 riders took the Roanoke route in July, up 27 percent from 21,654 in June. The year-to-year increase 72.1 percent for a service that also stops in Alexandria, Burke Center, Manassas, Culpeper, and Lynchburg. An expansion to Christiansburg is planned for the next few years.
The July 2022 numbers were up 31.4 percent over the last summer before the pandemic. A roundtrip service to Newport News was suspended for a portion of the shutdown, but has been resumed.
“Every route saw an increase in ridership with Newport News topping the list,” reads a press release from Amtrak.
The city of Charlottesville has begun moving ahead with changes to the city’s Downtown Mall, which will turn 50 in the year 2026. Last week, the Board of Architectural Review weighed in on one change intended to make parts of it a little safer.
“This is a request from the city of Charlottesville to install metal grates at the three small fountains located on the Downtown Mall,” said Jeff Werner, the city’s historic preservation planner. “The situation we have is that because of issues related to pedestrian safety and ADA accessibility concern, the decision was made to install grates.”
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has awarded a $1.552 million grant to Charlottesville Area Transit to operate a demonstration project for microtransit service in Albemarle County. That includes a match of $388,000 in local funds. The service could take up to a year to get underway, according to Lucinda Shannon, a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
Similar projects have been implemented at various stages across the nation. The city of Wilson, North Carolina with a population of around 50,000 people replaced its fixed route service with on-demand shuttles in September 2020.
The effort to link the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Afton to Charlottesville with a continuous shared-use path has received a major boost from the federal government. A $2 million grant authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be awarded to Albemarle County for the Three Notched Trail Shared Use Path Plan.
“A ‘shared use’ path is typically a 10’ wide paved trail that is physically separated from the motor vehicle travel way and allows bi-directional pedestrian and bicycle traffic,” reads a website for the project. “Once built, the TNT will provide local residents and visitors with car-free transportation and recreational opportunities.”
There are eight days left until classes begin for pupils in Charlottesville City Schools, and more will be walking to school due to a severe lack of people currently employed to drive school buses.
“Due to the ongoing bus driver shortage, we have expanded our ‘walk zones’ to 0.75 miles for the elementary schools, and 1.25 miles for Walker, Buford, and [Charlottesville High School],” reads an email sent to interested parties. “This change brings our walk zones closer to regional and national norms.”
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has officially endorsed a plan that offers guidance for how future intersection improvements on Rio Road may look in the future.
“This is a planning level document that establishes a vision for improvements along the corridor with sufficient analysis of the conceptual design to understand whether the proposed concepts can address future and existing conditions and can meet [Virginia Department of Transportation] and other relevant engineering standards,” said David Benish, development process manager for Albemarle County.
Vehicular crashes are up on Virginia roads this year and late last month area law enforcement agencies teamed up on to enforce speeding and distracted driving laws on U.S. 29. On July 21, Albemarle County Police, Charlottesville Police, and the University of Virginia police were out in force from the Greene County border to the Nelson County line.
“We usually see at least 700,000 vehicles daily on that stretch of roadway,” said Albemarle Master Police Officer Kate Kane. “Consequently it adds up to a lot of crashes unfortunately.”
Charlottesville has now received all of the $19.6 million in funding it will receive from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act fund. Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers gave Council an update at their meeting on July 18.
“It’s been a big help for local government in terms of recovery from the impact of the pandemic,” Rogers said.
Classes begin for Charlottesville City Schools in four weeks and work continues to prepare for a year in which more students will not be eligible to get a ride on a school bus. A driver shortage has led the school system to expand walk zones that are still being finalized.
“We are hoping to let families know this week about their current bus eligibility and whether they have a bus request on files,” reads an email update sent to interested parties on Monday. “This status update will tell families if their child is in a walk zone or eligible for the bus.”