Route 29 panel urges VDOT to include bike and pedestrian plans

VDOT recently released a detailed rendering of the proposed grade-separated interchange of Rio Road and Route 29. Image courtesy VDOT VDOT recently released a detailed rendering of the proposed grade-separated interchange of Rio Road and Route 29. Image courtesy VDOT

The Virginia Department of Transportation is on track to begin $230 million worth of road projects along Route 29. According to a state mandate, all four components of the plan, dubbed the Route 29 Solutions, must be completed within the next three years. But as the long-anticipated alternative to the Western Bypass moves forward, stakeholders want to ensure that pedestrian and bicycle access doesn’t get overlooked.

At last week’s meeting of the Route 29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel, an appointed group tasked with assisting with the development of the Route 29 Solutions, former VDOT commissioner Philip Shucet announced that a request for proposals for three projects will be published on October 2. The projects include the northward extension of Berkmar Drive, the widening of 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center, and a controversial grade-separated interchange at Rio Road, which VDOT shared a detailed rendering of last week.

At a meeting earlier this year, Mayor Satyendra Huja suggested the widening project include a multi-use trail on the eastern side of 29. The entire panel—which includes elected officials, Route 29 business owners, and city and county staff—supported the recommendation, but the trail is not included in the October 2 RFP.

“VDOT is making an earnest effort to see whether or not the trail can be added and at what additional cost that might be,” Shucet said after the meeting.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board, a governor-appointed body that establishes administrative policies and allocates highway funding to specific projects, adopted a policy in 2004 that bicycle and pedestrian facilities have to be considered as part of every project.

“What does that mean, to be considered?” Shucet said. “It means we don’t have to do it, but we have to at least think about it, and think about how it could be done, and that’s what VDOT’s doing.”

Shucet noted that the two-mile stretch of 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center currently has sidewalks on either side. Expanding the sidewalk on the eastern side into a wider, multi-use trail for pedestrians and bicyclists might require narrowing the median, removing some trees, and building a higher retaining wall.

There hasn’t been any pushback against the idea, Shucet said, and while it’s ultimately VDOT’s decision, he said he’s prepared to recommend the multi-use trail be included in the November RFP addendum, following an October 14 public hearing on the projects’ designs.

Advisory panel member Chip Boyles, the new executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said he fully supports adding the multi-use trail to the design.

“You don’t want to spend everything on vehicular transportation,” Boyles said. “You also want to take into account mass transit, pedestrian access, and bicycling.”

He noted that the extension of Berkmar Drive, which runs parallel to Route 29 on the west side from Hilton Heights to Hollymead Town Center, already includes a multi-use trail. But that doesn’t negate the need for one on the east side of the highway, he said, and with the corridor consistently expanding, he said, it makes sense to consider alternative transportation options.

“It’s a movement all over, and providing these things is becoming more and more important,” Boyles said. “And with that being a growth area, it could very well be useful in the future, if not immediately.”

On Tuesday, October 14, VDOT will hold a design public hearing in the Albemarle High School cafeteria starting at 5pm.