Learning from VDOT’s US 29 Gainesville Experience

By. Neil Williamson, President

In considering the continuing plans for the US 29 Corridor, we must look beyond just Places29, Albemarle’s ill conceived planning boondoggle and look to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to understand how the state of Virginia may envision the future of this National Highway.

It was with this lens that I read with great interest yesterday’s Washington Post article entitled “Smoothing out Linton Hall Road InterchangeGainesville’s snarls”. 

Before too many folks comment that this is not an analogous comparison as US 29 and I-66 do not equal US 29 and Rio Road,  I suggest focusing on the Gallerher Rd/Linton Hall Rd/US 29 intersection which is to the south of the I-66 Interchange.

According to VDOT:

Route 29 carries roughly 57,000 vehicles a day through Gainesville and that is expected to increase to 87,000 by 2035. Linton Hall Road carried 15,500 vehicles per day in 2005, and by 2035 it is expected to grow to 42,000.

In describing the project VDOT uses much of the same planner language we have become accustomed to in Places 29:

The new, grade-separated interchange at Route 29/Linton Hall Road will create a limited-access facility on Route 29 between Virginia Oaks Drive and Heathcote Boulevard.

View a video rendering of the new interchange. (For optimum viewing, right-click on the link and choose “Save as” to your local machine.)

In order to achieve this great through put, VDOT has spent the last three years acquiring the land around the road junctions, relocating utilities and demolishing 38 buildings.

In addition, according to the Washington Post article:

Meanwhile, Route 29 will be widened to six lanes in this area. Driveway entrances and the two traffic lights between I-66 and Virginia Oaks Drive will be eliminated. This work is scheduled to be done in December 2014.

VDOT estimates the cost of the Linton Hall Interchange to be $267 million. 

What can we learn from this project as it may apply to Charlottesville?

VDOT is most concerned with the efficient movement of vehicles through the corridor.  This concern manifests itself in the closing of driveways, signalized intersections and all other impediments they can remove.

places29_web Recognizing that some may not believe such plans are in the works for Charlottesville, I encourage you to examine the maps in Technical Memorandum #7 that form the Access Management study of Places29. 

Technical Memorandum #7 (part of Places29) specifically calls out:

The purpose of access management is to maximize the effectiveness and safety of the roadway system as it relates to providing access to land adjacent to the roadway. Access management, as it is currently applied, recognizes the need for roadways to accommodate varying degrees of through traffic movement at the expense of access to abutting property. Under this basic principle of access management, higher order roads favor through movement over direct access to property, which essentially requires property access to occur via lower order roads that intersect with the higher order roads. In this context, traffic function (i.e., the degree to which through traffic movement is given priority) controls the design of the roadway. [Emphasis added-nw]

If VDOT’s Gainesville actions and the principles expressed in technical memorandum #7 are accurate, I believe both would be compelled to agree with the Places 29 critics who have called the proposed road “an Expressway” that will cut the community in half.

It does not take a traffic engineer to look at the design of the Linton Hall Road interchange and see the large footprint (and destroyed businesses) left in its wake. 

The US 29 corridor subcommittee is meeting in Culpeper on Friday (8/27) to discuss among other things the “Charlottesville” issue.  The Commonwealth Transportation Board indicated in December that they were not thrilled with the US 29 corridor report issued and specifically asked for four actions:

  • A prioritized list of intersections to be replaced by grade-separated intersections and interchanges
  • A plan to improve mobility and accessibility north of Charlottesville, evaluating various alternatives and not limited to prior proposals
  • A plan to improve mobility and accessibility in the Gainesville, Haymarket and Buckland region, evaluating various alternatives and not limited to prior proposals
  • A plan to minimize the number of traffic-control signals in the corridor.

Taking them at their word, the CTB wants overpasses not traffic control signals in the corridor. 

This leads this writer to wonder, if given an expressway is to be built should it run through the middle of the community or perhaps, there is some other option available to move traffic that has no desire to be in Charlottesville but desires to pass by the area to get to points north or south?

Just a thought…..

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20070731williamson 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

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