The Eastern Connector Study November, 2007 planning for the future

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1 The Eastern Connector Study November, 2007 planning for the future In late 2006, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville jointly initiated the Eastern Connector Corridor Study. The Project Team is comprised of representatives from Albemarle County, the City of Charlottesville, and the engineering consulting team engaged for the project. The Project Team is being advised by an 8-member Steering Committee. The Steering Committee includes representatives from: Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Albemarle County Planning Commission Charlottesville City Council Charlottesville Planning Commission Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Virginia Department of Transportation Project Purpose and Need Funded jointly by Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, the Eastern Connector Study is an examination of a potential multimodal transportation connection between US Route 29 north of the US Route 250 Bypass and the City of Charlottesville and US Route 250 east of the City in the Pantops area. The original concept for such an improved east-west transportation linkage between these two corridors was identified over twenty years ago. Most recently, the concept was cited as a long-range need during the technical analysis associated with the development of the UnJAM 2025 long-range transportation plan for the Charlottesville/Albemarle County urbanized area. Without making any final recommendations as to the exact location of the project, the adopted UnJAM 2025 Plan included a generalized description and cost estimate for an Eastern Connector Roadway. The ultimately adopted plan envisioned the Eastern Connector as a two-lane roadway, with a projected average daily traffic volume in the year 2025 of approximately 15,000 vehicles per day. Since the proposed Eastern Connector is envisioned as being a primarily new transportation corridor linking the existing US Route 29 north and US Route 250 east corridors, it is not possible to make a direct comparison of current or historical travel demand in the Eastern Connector corridor itself to assess what the magnitude of future travel demand might be. It is possible, however, to examine the historical traffic growth trends along those corridors to which the Eastern Connector might potentially be linked. These existing travel corridors include: US 29 north of the US 250 Bypass and US 250 east of the Rivanna River. Between 2001 and 2006, the average daily traffic volume on US Route 29 from Rio Road (Route 631) to Hollymead Road (Route 1520) increased from 1

2 43,000 vehicles per day to 51,000 vehicles per day, an increase of about 19 percent. Over this same time period, the US Route 250 Free Bridge over the Rivanna River experienced an increase in traffic volume from 30,000 vehicles per day to 52,000 vehicles per day, an increase of 73 percent. The majority of this observed increase in travel demand can be attributed to the continuing growth in both population and employment in the region. Between 1990 and 2000, the combined population of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission region increased from 164,210 persons to 199,648 persons. This represented an increase of about 22 percent, with the vast majority of this increase taking place in Albemarle County. Recent estimates prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau are that the total combined population of the region was approximately 221,504 persons as of July 1, This is an additional increase of about 11 percent since Projections through the year 2025 anticipate continuing population growth, with the TJPDC region expecting to contain approximately 277,400 persons by This is equivalent to about a 25 percent increase from the 2006 estimates. Total employment in the Charlottesville/Albemarle County urbanized area is similarly projected to experience continuing growth, from an estimated 64,289 jobs in 2005 to about 89,342 jobs by 2025, an increase of about 39 percent in just 20 years. This is in addition to an observed increase in employment of about 16 percent between 1998 and The implications of the continuation of the observed historical growth in regional population and employment are that travel demand will also continue to increase over time. Projected traffic volume estimates prepared in connection with the Eastern Connector Study have confirmed this assumption. As shown on this table, average daily traffic volume on the US Route 250 Free Bridge is estimated to increase from about 48,210 vehicles per day in 2005 to about 68,340 vehicles per day by The estimated increase in traffic of about 20,130 vehicles per day is Projected Traffic Volumes at Rivanna River Crossings, Location 2005 Volume 2025 Volume Volume Change Percent Change US 250 Free Bridge Proffit Road (Rt 649) Bridge 48,210 68,340 20, % 4,190 10,120 5, % Total Volume 52,400 78,460 26, % 2

3 equivalent to about a 42 percent increase. Similarly, traffic on the Proffit Road (Route 649) bridge over the Rivanna River is projected to increase from about 4,190 vehicles per day in 2005 to about 10,120 vehicles per day in Considered together, these two existing Rivanna River crossings are anticipated to experience an increase in travel demand of almost 50 percent between 2005 and 2025 and would experience congestion levels greater than they do today. This anticipated increase in travel demand is greater than the projected increases in either population (39 percent) or employment (39 percent) over the same time period. And this increase in travel demand assumes the completion of all of the transportation system improvements currently contained in the UnJAM 2025 Plan except for the Eastern Connector. Based on these findings, the members of the Steering Committee, with assistance from their consultants and agency staff, began an examination of a number of possible multimodal alternatives to provide travelers with additional options for travel in the region. What alternatives have been developed? Since the initial round of public information meetings in May 2007, the members of the Steering Committee and their consultants have been examining a wide range of possible alternatives for the Eastern Connector. These have included options for the improvement of existing travel corridors such as US Route 250, alternatives which would use portions of existing streets and highways and add a few missing links, and alternatives which would essentially be totally new facilities on new alignments. The basic concept associated with any of the potential missing links or new location facilities has been that of a 2-lane street or highway with parallel bicycle and pedestrian facilities. This basic concept is viewed as being the most appropriate in terms of size and general character for implementation in those portions of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County which constitute the project study area. Typical Crossection Through Eastern Connector These alternatives represent the current thinking of the consultant team and the members of the Steering Committee based on the results of the technical analysis and discussions undertaken to date. This consists of: present day and future year traffic forecasts relative to the definition of the project purpose and need; the review of previous planning and engineering studies in the Charlottesville/ Albemarle County area; comments generated by the initial round of public information meetings held on May 22 nd and May 24 th and associated stakeholder interviews; and discussions at Steering Committee meetings in August, October, and November. The range of alternatives developed has sought to 3

4 take into account public comments, environmental constraints, and the results of the technical analysis outlining the magnitude and the spatial distribution of present day and projected future travel demands in the study area in the Year It is important to keep in mind that prior to the actual funding and implementation of any of these alternatives they would have to be added to the list of proposed transportation system improvements that are included in the currently adopted fiscally constrained long-range transportation plan (LRTP) for Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Within just the defined boundaries of the Eastern Connector Corridor Study Area, the current LRTP includes such actions as: Construction of the US Route 250 Bypass/ McIntire Road interchange; Reconstruction of approximately 1.6 miles of Proffit Road (VA Route 649) east of US Route 29 to a 4-lane urban cross section; and Construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway (Phase 1) from the US Route 250 Bypass to the Rio Road railroad overpass. Thus the initial horizon year alternative can be viewed as the Existing plus Committed (or No- Build ) transportation system which includes all of the currently adopted LRTP highway, public transportation, bicycle, and pedestrian system improvement projects. This future base case alternative (which can be considered to be Alternative 0 ) serves as the basis against which the projected changes in system performance associated with all other potential improvement alternatives will be assessed. Taking all of these factors into account, the suggested group of potential conceptual improvement alternatives for the proposed Eastern Connector Corridor is as follows: Alt. 1 - Proffit Road (Route 649) Relocated. This alternative would define the Eastern Connector as following the general alignment of the existing Proffit Road corridor between US Route 29 and VA Route 20. The western portion of this corridor, from the US Route 29 intersection east for approximately 1.6 miles, is included in the current LRTP and the associated Short Range Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the region as a funded improvement project. This current project envisions reconstruction of the existing 2-lane rural cross section roadway to a 4-lane urban cross section facility with sidewalks. Beyond the eastern limits of this project, a relocated section of Route 649 would be constructed on new alignment. This new location facility would be constructed to the north and east of the defined Proffit Historic District and would provide an additional grade separated overpass of the Norfolk Southern mainline railroad tracks. The basic cross section of this new facility is envisioned as being a two-lane, rural collector type roadway with parallel bicycle and pedestrian paths. The new location section of this alternative would rejoin existing Route 649 near the western edge of the North Fork Rivanna River floodplain and then continue along the existing alignment east to the 4

5 intersection of Route 649 with Route 20. It is anticipated that a new traffic signal would be installed at the Route 649/Route 20 intersection and that the intersection approach legs would be improved to provide dedicated turn lanes as might be required. The new location portion of this corridor would divert through traffic from the Proffit Historic District and reduce traffic volumes which must now use the oldest and most physically and operationally constrained portions of Route 649 to travel between Route 20 and US 29. A companion action would reconfigure the two existing closely spaced but slightly offset T-configuration intersections of Route 769 with Route 20 in the Key West area into a single, four-approach leg intersection. At a minimum, separate left turn lanes would be provided on both the northbound and southbound Route 20 approaches to this single combined reconfigured intersection to enhance safety. 5

6 Alt. 2 - Polo Grounds Road (Route 643) Connector This alternative would follow the existing alignment of Polo Grounds Road (Route 643) from the Route 643/US 29 junction east to approximately the current single lane railroad underpass. As described in the currently adopted LRTP, this very narrow underpass is planned to be replaced by a modern two-lane overpass or underpass structure. From a point just east of the railroad line, a new location alignment for Polo Grounds Road (Route 643) would be defined. The new alignment portion of the corridor would be located adjacent to the Red Hills property and north of the Bentivar community, include a new crossing of the Rivanna River and its floodplain, and parallel the southern boundary of the Southwest Mountains Rural Historic District and the northern boundary of the Redbud community to terminate at Route 20 near the intersection with Hammocks Gap Road (Route 612). Between the US 29 and Route 20 terminus points, the basic cross section of the improved Polo Grounds Road Connector would be that of a two-lane, rural collector type roadway with parallel bicycle and pedestrian paths. As was the case with the Proffit Road alternative described above, a companion action would reconfigure the two closely-spaced offset T- configuration intersections of Route 769 with Route 20 into a single, four-approach leg intersection. 6

7 Alt. 3 - Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park This alternative would connect US 250 and the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway/Rio Road corridor with an alignment that would use the existing utility road located in the central portion of the park. On the east side of the river, a new connection would be constructed from Whitehouse Court and US 250 north and west to Route 20. This alternative would then follow the existing alignment of Route 20 north to approximately Cason Farm Road. A new section of roadway would then extend west from Route 20 along the northern edge of Darden Towe Park to cross the Rivanna River and pass through the center of Pen Park to connect to existing Pen Park Road. This alternative would then continue west to the junction of the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway (Phase 1) with Rio Road. This alternative was one of the original concepts that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) examined during the early stages of the US Route 29 Bypass study and the earlier 1985 CATS regional transportation plan development. It is viewed by several Steering Committee members as providing a good connection in the study area and is thought to potentially be one of the more cost effective alternatives. 7

8 Evaluation of Conceptual Alternatives Both the original group of alternative actions which were identified and those selected by the members of the Project Steering Committee for further analysis were compared against a number of different evaluation factors. These factors included: Anticipated reduction in traffic volume on the US 250 Free Bridge Changes in average travel time between the Hollymead area along US 29 and the Pantops area along US 250 The anticipated construction cost of the alternatives The potential environmental impacts of the alternatives It must be noted that each of these conceptual alternatives are subject to additional refinement to their physical location and design elements to further reduce environmental impacts and costs. Some of the initial findings from the preliminary alternatives evaluation are as follows: Transportation Impacts One of the major considerations for the Eastern Connector is seeking ways to reduce projected travel demands and hence congestion levels across the US 250 Free Bridge over the Rivanna River. The table below summarizes the effects of each alternative on the projected year 2025 volumes on this bridge in comparison to those forecast to occur with the currently adopted long-range transportation plan for the region. As shown on this table, the more northern alternatives (Alt. #1 Proffit Road Relocated and Alt. #2 Polo Grounds Road Connector) are projected to have only Rivanna River Crossing Volumes Forecast 2025 Traffic Volumes By Alternative Estimated Year 2025 Daily Traffic Volumes Alternatives Lanes Across Rivanna River US 250 Proffit Road New Route US 250 Diversion Alt CLRP 6 65,500 10,980 NA NA Alt. #1 - Proffit Road Relocated 6 65,350 11,780 NA -0.2% Alt. #2 - Polo Grounds Road Connector 8 64,540 6,820 6, % Alt. #3 - Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park 8 58,520 9,730 13, % 8

9 modest effects on diverting traffic from the US 250 Free Bridge. These reductions in the estimated volume of average daily traffic are on the order of -0.2 percent and -1.5 percent, respectively, in comparison to the projected volume on the US 250 Bridge in the Base LRTP alternative. Alternative #3 US 250 Corridor Upgrade is projected to divert about 6.0 percent of daily traffic from the existing Free Bridge, with virtually all of this traffic shifting to the proposed new bridge linking Rio Road and Route 20. Travel Time Savings One of the defined purposes of the Eastern Connector is to reduce the travel time associated with trips between the US 29 North and US 250 East corridors. To examine the effects of each alternative on this evaluation factor, the average travel time between the Hollymead area along the US 29 corridor and the Martha Jefferson Hospital in the Pantops area along the US 250 corridor was calculated for each alternative. The results are as follows: For Alt CLRP, the average travel time between these two locations would be about 37.8 minutes. Alt. #1 Proffit Road Relocated would reduce the average travel time to about 37.4 minutes, a savings of 0.4 minutes compared to the CLRP travel time. Alt. #2 Polo Grounds Road Connector would reduce the average travel time to about 36.8 minutes, a savings of 1.1 minute compared to the CLRP travel time. Alt. #3 Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park would reduce the average travel time to about 35.9 minutes, a savings of 1.9 minutes compared to the CLRP travel time. Travel Time Comparisons Between US 29 North and US 250 East Corridors Hollymead to Pantops Alternatives Travel Time (Minutes) Difference (Minutes) Alt CLRP 37.8 NA Alt. #1 - Proffit Road Relocated Alt. #2 - Polo Grounds Road Connector Alt. #3 - Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park

10 Anticipated Construction Cost Any physical or operational improvement to the existing transportation system in the Charlottesville area has a cost associated with it. Whether it be something as simple as installing a new traffic sign, installing a bus passenger waiting shelter, or improving a section of sidewalk or as complex as constructing a new bridge or roadway interchange, there are costs associated with the planning, design, and construction of the action. In the case of the Eastern Connector alternative concepts, preliminary cost estimates have been made reflective of recent transportation system improvement experience in the central Virginia region. The table below summarizes the estimated cost associated with each alternative. The estimated cost for each alternative includes three primary elements: the actual capital construction cost (roadway pavements, bridges and other structures, sidewalks, traffic signals, drainage and utility relocations, etc.), other non-capital costs (engineering design, construction management and contingencies), and right-of-way costs (the acquisition of privately owned land for public purposes). As shown on the table, each of these cost elements varies between the alternatives, with some having a higher capital cost and others having a higher right-of-way cost. This is typical for projects of a similar nature, in this instance two-lane roadways and bridges, located in different parts of a developing urban area. As previously noted, minor adjustments to the location of an alternative can result in either increases or decreases in each of these cost factors. All values shown are in terms of current year (2007) dollars. Estimated Cost of Alternative Concepts Estimated Costs (Millions) Alternatives Construction Non-Capital Costs Right-of-Way Costs Total Estimated Costs Alt. #1 - Proffit Road Relocated $22.3 $15.1 $9.6 $48.0 Alt. #2 - Polo Grounds Road Connector Alt. #3 - Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park $29.5 $19.2 $12.2 $60.9 $24.0 $15.6 $9.9 $

11 What Environmental Resources May Be Affected? During the environmental inventory and data collection effort, the Project Team identified the natural, community and cultural resources in the project study area. These include Pen Park, Darden Towe Park, the Rivanna River and its floodplain, a number of public and private schools, a number of churches, and residential neighborhoods in both the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The Project Team is conducting more detailed environmental studies to evaluate the impact or effect to these resources from the various concept alternatives under consideration. These impacts or effects will be presented for review and comment by members of the general public, the Project Steering Committee and other public agencies. Minor adjustments to the physical location or the design features associated with a particular alternative can result in either increases or decreases in the number and severity of any of these potential impacts or effects. At the same time, it must be recognized that even modest scale improvements to any element of the transportation system will have some impact or effect on the community through which it passes. 11

12 Meetings & Information The purpose of these meetings is two fold: to present information to the public and to obtain input from the public. After residents have had an opportunity to review a series of visual displays and talk with members of the project team, a brief project overview will be made. This overview will include a discussion of the project purpose and need; a description of the principal characteristics of each of the final group of alternatives under consideration; and a discussion of the potential effects of the alternatives on future traffic demands and both natural and manmade environmental factors. Eastern Connector Public Information Meetings 1 November 28, 2007 Baker Butler Elementary School Cafeteria 7:00pm 9:00pm 2 November 29, 2007 Albemarle County Office Building Second Floor Lobby 7:00pm 9:00pm Following the formal presentation, the public will be asked to assemble at tables of 8-10 people and discuss their preferences, concerns, and thoughts. This information will be used to continue to refine the physical location and design features of each of the final alternatives for presentation to the public at the next series of public information meetings in early For more information on the Eastern Connector, please contact Juan Wade of the Albemarle County Department of Community Development at (434) Ext 3368 or 12

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