A $146 million project to rebuild the interchange of U.S. 29 and Interstate 64 at Exit 118 has been ranked close to the bottom of a list of Virginia’s transportation priorities.
The interchange has multiple safety hazards, including an incomplete “cloverleaf” design that requires northbound traffic on U.S. 29 to cross the southbound lanes before it can gain access to the westbound ramp to I-64.
The passage of House Bill 2 in the 2014 General Assembly mandates that transportation projects must be ranked according to how well they would perform on a number of metrics, including decreasing congestion and providing access to jobs.
“Hopefully, we’re going to make objective decisions that are based on outcomes and not on perceived solutions,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne at a meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board earlier this week.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have some subjective analysis to do but the plate is being set through a more objective measurement,” he said.
In all, Virginia localities submitted 321 applications and 287 projects qualified for funding beginning in fiscal year 2017.
The Exit 118 project ranked 282 statewide and 17th among 17 projects submitted for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District, which includes much of the Charlottesville area.
Will Cockrell, a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said he was surprised.
“I thought it might be low because they factor in cost and it’s a fairly expensive project but I didn’t know it was going to be nearly last place in the state,” Cockrell said.
Congestion mitigation makes up 15 percent of the score; safety improvements are 25 percent; accessibility improvements are 25 percent; environmental benefits are 10 percent; and economic development potential is 25 percent.
The top scorer in the Culpeper District is a $900,000 expansion of a park-and-ride lot in Warrenton. That project had high scores for providing access to jobs.
The second-highest project in the district is a $3.6 million roundabout at the intersection of Route 53 and Route 618. That has a high score for its potential to reduce crashes.
The highest-ranking project for the city of Charlottesville is a $5.6 million plan to improve the streetscape of East High Street. The project ranks 113rd in the state and sixth in the Culpeper District.
A $12 million project to improve Emmet Street ranked 128th in the state and seventh in the district.
While Exit 118 had a high score for improving access to the state’s interstate system, it scored zero for contributing to economic development.
It is unclear yet how the rankings will translate into projects being funded.
“This is just scoring,” Layne said. “This is not allocation.”
Layne said the CTB will have the opportunity to change the way the scores are ranked as the body considers VDOT’s Six Year Improvement Program this winter and spring.
Cockrell said he has questions about the process. For instance, he wants to know why a $7 million intersection project in Louisa County scored a 41.455 for its environmental impact. Exit 118 only scores 0.561 on that metric.
“This is supposed to provide transparency and it does that but at the same time it’s hard to tell where these numbers came from,” Cockrell said.
If the CTB does not change the way the projects are scored, Cockrell said it may be that localities change their submissions.
“It’s interesting how a project with bike and pedestrian components generally did a lot better than what I had expected, which is a good thing,” Cockrell said. “If it stays like this it will make folks think about alternative approaches rather than completely redesigning an interchange.”
The Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board is set to discuss the matter at its meeting Wednesday.
These are the transportation projects proposed by the state for funding in Charlottesville and Albemarle County:
» I-64 at U.S. 29, $146.4 million;
» I-64 at U.S. 250, $46.9 million;
» Fontaine Avenue streetscape, $11.7 million;
» East High Street streetscape, $5.6 million;
» Sunset Avenue improvements, $16 million;
» Emmet Street streetscape and intersection improvements, $12.1 million; and
» Proffit Road at U.S. 29, $20 million.
Projects in Greene County proposed for funding are improving the intersection at U.S. 29 and Route 607, at $4.2 million, and work to the intersection of U.S. 29 at U.S. 33, at $10.1 million.
Projects in Louisa and Fluvanna counties are building a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 15 and Route 53 near Palmyra, at $2.5 million; realigning Schoolbus Road at Chalklevel Road, near Louisa, at $7.5 million; and improvements to Route 208, at $22.6 million.