A series of meetings to shape the future of the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road will get underway in March, and the head of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission said there are no preconceived outcomes.
“Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne is very clear that we’re going into this with a blank sheet of paper,” said Chip Boyles, executive director of the TJPDC. “There is no automatic assumption that another Rio Road [grade-separated] intersection is the answer. It may be, but it may not be.”
The same Route 29 Solutions process that led to the Rio Road intersection and other transportation projects also set aside $10 million in funds for preliminary engineering at the Hydraulic intersection. Another $10 million was allocated for a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive.
Layne has worked with the Commonwealth Transportation Board to accelerate funding to begin the planning process so that an application for construction funding can be made in the next round of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process.
“Things are still moving very rapidly with the Hydraulic and Route 29 small-area plan,” Boyles said. “We’ve kind of named it now the Hydraulic Planning Area.”
Three of the four corners of the intersection are within city limits. The northwest corner, which includes the Shops at Stonefield, is within Albemarle County.
A 12-member stakeholder group patterned after the Route 29 Solutions Advisory Panel has been assembled. Members will include business owners from all four corners of the intersection, as well as city and county officials.
Former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet will once again facilitate the conversations. He has overseen the Route 29 Solutions projects since March 2014. The panel will meet every other Thursday at VDOT’s research center at 530 Edgemont Road.
The work will be paid for by VDOT and will be conducted in two phases. Richmond-based Kimley-Horn will be responsible for the land-use planning and Baker International will conduct the transportation work.
The information will be used to develop preliminary engineering for whatever transportation solution comes out of the panel’s work.
“There’s a shared benefit of having two different consultants working at the same time just to make sure what we may recommend in the planning phase is actually doable as far as VDOT is concerned,” Boyles said.
The exact boundaries of the study area have not yet been defined, but the scope will extend as far south as the U.S. 29 and U.S. 250 interchange. One question is how far west the study will extend.
“We definitely want to make sure we’re including any of the multifamily housing that’s in that area,” Boyles said, adding that the initial thought is not to include single-family neighborhoods.
Boyles said the panel may have to hurry. The goal is to have a recommendation in place before the next round of VDOT Smart Scale funding requests are due. VDOT staff members have asked to have the deadline moved up from September 2018 to June 2018.
Residents of the city’s Meadows neighborhood are paying attention to the study.
“There’s a possibility the road itself may impact both the multifamily and the single-family homes that are directly behind the Holiday Inn,” said Marilyn Basham. “We’re concerned about the value of our property and how it’s going to impact our whole neighborhood.”
Basham said the work at the Best Buy ramp has helped traffic on U.S. 29.
“I was really skeptical, but I will say it has made a huge difference,” Basham said. “I have been through this intersection every day for 40 years, and the wait time at the intersection is now one minute and 20 seconds.”
Jim Chang, president of the Meadows neighborhood association, said he hopes the land-use study can encourage uses that are not centered around automobiles.
“This would be an opportunity maybe to encourage more of a human scale for our area,” Chang said.
The first meeting will be held at 2 p.m. March 9 and will be livestreamed.