By. Neil Williamson, President
After over 6 years of study, Albemarle County’s Master Plan for the North US 29 Development areas (Places29) is headed to a vote, possibly as early as February 2nd. At the same time the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has informed land owners and Albemarle County of its intention to enforce design guidelines that will make the Places29 Vision impossible to achieve.
It is an example of “Vision Collision”.
Please let me explain.
Places29 envisions US 29 as:
Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.
Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.
VDOT sees the roads primary responsibility for moving vehicular traffic. To that end they are now requiring developers use the “Geometric Design Standard for Urban Principal Arterial System (GS-5)” for the US 29 corridor north of the South Fork Rivanna River bridge. Such a road is to be designed for either 50 mph (North to Airport Road) or 60 mph (North of Airport Road).
At the heart of the issue is VDOT’s 2005 road classification map that defined US 29 as an Urban Principal Arterial which is what defines the standards to which US 29 must be constructed.
Other important design requirements include: a prohibition of utilities from being placed under the main travel lanes (a water/sewer line currently runs through US29 median), paved shoulders of 8’ on each side of each travel way, a minimum of 6’ ditch on either side of each travel way, to provide the required “clear zone”.
The term “clear zone” is used to describe the unobstructed, traversable area provided beyond the edge of the traveled way for the recovery of an errant vehicle. The clear zone includes shoulders, bike lanes, parking lanes and auxiliary lanes (except those auxiliary lanes that function like through lanes). Clear zone distances are based upon traffic volume, speed, and embankment slopes.
A recoverable area is to be provided that is clear of all unyielding obstacles such as trees, sign supports, utility poles, light poles, or any other fixed objects that might severely damage an out-of-control vehicle (See 2004 AASHTO A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, Chapter 5). Determining a practical clear zone often involves a series of compromises between absolute safety, engineering judgment, environmental and economic
constraints. Additional information is available in AASHTO’s Roadside Design Guide.
When establishing a full-width clear zone in an urban area is not practical due to right of way constraints, consideration should be given to establishing a reduced clear zone or incorporating as many clear zone concepts as practical such as removing roadside objects or making them crashworthy. The minimum requirement for this scenario is 1.5 ft. lateral offset. [Emphasis added – nw]
In another “Vision Collision”, Places29 foresees curb and gutter with street trees along most portions of US 29. VDOT’s standards clearly discourage such development and wants to see light poles and other utilities pushed to the other side of the sidewalk:
Whenever adequate right of way is available, urban projects should be designed with shoulders in lieu of curbs (unless city ordinances require otherwise) and clear zone widths should be consistent with the requirements for roadways with shoulders. (See 2004 AASHTO “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”, Chapter 7). The justification for providing a curb is to be documented in the project file (e.g. Preliminary Field Inspection Report, recommendation from Right of Way and Utilities Division, etc.).
High-Speed Roadways with curb
For roadways with design speeds of > 50 mph, curb should ONLY be utilized in special situations. These situations may include, but are not limited to the following:
- Drainage considerations
- Need for access control
- Right of way restrictions
Source: AASHTO Green Book, Chapter 4
When necessary to utilize curb on a roadway with a design speed > 50 mph for one of the situations listed above, the minimum lateral offset distance is 1.5 feet measured from the face of curb. However, consideration should be given to providing more than the minimum lateral offset to obstructions (signs, utility poles, luminaire supports, fire hydrants, etc. including breakaway devices), where practical, by placing fixed objects behind the sidewalk.
After checking with a transportation engineer source familiar with VDOT regulations we were told,
North of the South Fork Rivanna Bridge, due to speed limit of 50 to 60 mph mountable curb (CG-7) would be required along the throughway and so the only way you’ll get away with the 1.5’ lateral offsite to any obstruction that is not “breakway” is with the installation of guardrail prior to the obstruction.
How many Places29 renderings included significant guardrail?
To be clear if VDOT and Places29 are in conflict, how would a developer get relief?
The Free Enterprise Forum understands that any reduction in standard would be considered a reduction in safety of the road, the approval of any waiver rests not with Albemarle County but with the State Location and Design Engineer and perhaps the Federal Highway Administration because the road is on the National Highway System inventory.
So why now? Why is VDOT enforcing this design standard?
Some have conjectured this new push for throughput on US 29 is based on a realization by upper VDOT management that the US 29 Bypass is not going to happen. If there is no bypass, there is no alternate route if US 29 becomes blocked, thus the new “clear zone” widened shoulder will permit traffic to flow even in the event of a traffic incident.
Where does this leave Places29?
The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are so sick of discussing Places29 that they may pass it on as early as February 2nd.
If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors does pass Places29, without fundamental changes (including real consideration of a bypass option), we believe VDOT will continue to press the arterial standards. If forced to meet this “new” standard, many approved developments may not be able to be achieved.
Places29 will then be nothing more than an expensive book of pretty pictures that hindered rather than enhanced development opportunities in the development areas.
Maybe that was the idea all along.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org