Vote expected on fate of Route 29 corridor tomorrow

A lawsuit wants to halt the grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and Route 29. Image courtesy VDOT. A lawsuit wants to halt the grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and Route 29. Image courtesy VDOT.

A vote to adopt a $203 million plan for improvements to Route 29 through Albemarle County could occur as early as Wednesday morning, possibly along with the beginning of the process of selling off the state’s right-of-way to the corresponding land.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 17-18 in Richmond to continue its May 14 workshop regarding the plan to relieve traffic congestion on Route 29. The new plan was developed by an advisory panel of municipal and business leaders from around the state in the wake of the federal rejection of the now-defunct Western Bypass proposal. Former Virginia Department of Transportation commissioner Philip Shucet oversaw that process and presented the updated plan, which is likely to be supported by the CTB despite continued resistance from Charlottesville-area businesses along the congested highway.

“The Advisory Panel—while not in unanimous agreement—worked hard to develop reasonable solutions,” Shucet said by e-mail. “I believe the package as presented to the CTB is the best opportunity to reach agreement on a package of projects that will improve mobility through and in the Route 29 corridor. If approved, the projects would be scheduled and would move forward. If not approved, then the projects would not move forward for further development.”

The proposal includes $43 million to complete several projects that have long been called for locally: extending Hillsdale Drive, widening Route 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center, and implementing more responsive traffic signal times.

Another $145 million would cover further construction projects, including an extra extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive, an extension of Berkmar Drive, and—the most controversial element—a ramp-and-underpass update to the Rio Road intersection, which will cost an estimated $81 million. The plan includes $10 million dedicated to study the impact of a similar grade-separated interchange for Hydraulic Road, and $5 million to expand Amtrak service between Lynchburg and Washington D.C.

Supporters of the package believe the plan will effectively reduce congestion and shorten traffic-induced delay times, while its opponents argue that the proposed solution does not address enough of the problems outside local Charlottesville and that the ultimate traffic configurations may hurt businesses along the areas of construction.

Shucet has said he supports the sale of Bypass right-of-way land, which VDOT began purchasing in the mid 1990s, ultimately spending $33.7 million. Should the CTB choose to sell the acreage, it would be a significant final blow to any remaining hopes for the Western Bypass as planned.

The CTB meeting takes place at the Virginia Department of Transportation Auditorium on Richmond’s Broad Street, with a workshop beginning at 1pm Tuesday and an action meeting following at 8:30am Wednesday.—Chase Gunter