The future of the area’s biggest transportation project, the Western Bypass, may still be in flux, but the regional planning organization is now focused on the more distant future. The transformation of Route 29 into a 35-mph boulevard, a transit route to Crozet, and bus lanes connecting the airport to Downtown Charlottesville are all projects under consideration for inclusion in the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Long Range Transportation Plan. Due to be finalized in the spring, the LRTP marks funding priorities through 2040, and is now open for public scrutiny.
Last week, the MPO offered up three possible design scenarios for local road and transit improvements in an open house at the Water Street Center. It was the first in a series of public input sessions set to take place in the coming months as the MPO Policy Board decides which projects—new roads, new bus routes, new bike and pedestrian paths—will get a piece of the $300 million-plus transit funding pie in the next two and a half decades.
As elected officials and residents milled around the poster-plastered conference room, MPO coordinator Sarah Rhodes explained that the road projects are nearly identical in all three scenarios. All feature “Multimodal 29,” a plan to turn Route 29 into a low-speed urban boulevard with more access for bikers, walkers, and buses. The idea of deliberately slowing down traffic on the congested road generated some criticism from elected officials when it was floated as an option earlier this summer, but Rhodes said it’s essential to the big picture of the highway’s future landscape.
“Our major transit improvements along 29 will not function unless we have that concept in there,” she said. “It’s creating more of a place within 29, slowing down traffic on it, providing more bike and pedestrian connections, and providing this transit link”—all of which is prefaced on the idea that the planned Western Bypass will siphon off through traffic.
One piece of the transit puzzle that made it into earlier rounds of project planning is conspicuously absent: An extension of the Bypass, previously conceived as a two-lane route following Dickerson Road from Ashwood Boulevard past the airport. “It showed no useful benefit, and was just a huge mess,” said Rhodes, and the MPO Policy Board scrapped it after the first planning phase.
Where the three project mashups differ significantly is on transit. Click the following images for a close-up view of each. For a detailed possible project list for each scenario and for more information on the MPO’s planning process, go to www.tjpdc.org/lrtp.
- Scenario A calls for a bus route between Charlottesville and Crozet as well as Bus Rapid Transit—an express bus system, at times with its own dedicated car-free lanes —from UVA and Downtown Charlottesville up 29 to the airport and beyond.
- Scenario B also includes Bus Rapid Transit, but proposes connecting 29 and Downtown via the Meadowcreek Parkway. It also adds a transit-and-HOV lane across Free Bridge.
- Scenario C calls for a bus link to the airport and a transit-only route across Free Bridge, but no Bus Rapid Transit.
Bike and pedestrian projects will be examined separately, but before that, the MPO will absorb public comment on the trio of scenarios presented last week and select a preferred option, and, eventually, a projects list. But that doesn’t mean anything is set in stone, said Rhodes.
“People can come out and say ‘I hate that’—repeatedly,” said Rhodes. “There’s still plenty of time.”