A panel of elected officials, business owners and citizens met for the first time Thursday to begin planning for the future of the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road. They were told at the outset the outcome may not be the same as at Rio Road.
“We’re not here to do the Hydraulic Road grade-separated intersection,” said Philip Shucet, a former Virginia Department of Transportation commissioner who has spent the last three years overseeing the process that led to that construction of a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and U.S. 29.
“I don’t know what it might be and maybe that’s what it might be, but I don’t know,” he added.
The Rio Road intersection and several other projects became known as the Route 29 Solutions and included $10 million in funding for preliminary engineering for intersection improvements at Hydraulic Road, as well as $10 million for construction of a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive.
Part of that funding is now being used to pay for both a small-area plan to guide redevelopment of land within the area, as well as a transportation plan — the panel process will determined the projects for it. Kimley-Horn of Richmond will oversee the land-use study and Baker International is responsible for the transportation plan.
The transportation plan will result in a project that will have to compete in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process. The next deadline for that process will be sometime in the summer of 2018.
The Hydraulic Road intersection has long been discussed and addressed in the community. For instance, the Charlottesville City Council voted down a plan to build a grade-separated interchange in January 1995. Three of the four corners are within city limits.
“There’s been a lot of planning work done in this area,” Shucet said, citing a 2004 study called 29H250 as well as the Places 29 Master Plan. That plan was adopted in 2011 and called for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic, as well as Rio Road.
The first meeting was a chance for panel members to introduce themselves.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting this figured out,” said Albemarle County Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
“I’m here with the institutional memory and I hope to keep everyone honest,” said Chuck Rotgin of the Great Eastern Management Company. Rotgin is a long-time opponent of grade-separated interchanges on U.S. 29.
One panelist was skeptical of what outcomes will come from the small-area plan.
“In the area we’re talking about, much of it is developed and some of them are substantial buildings,” said Vito Cetta, a homebuilder and citizen representative on the panel. “I’m anxious to learn what land use is going to mean when you already have substantial buildings.”
Other representatives stated that they plan to construct new buildings.
“We’re planning to redevelop the Kmart property,” said Alan Taylor, president of Riverbend Development.
Others just wanted to ensure that their interests are considered as the transportation components come together.
“We’ve got concerns for our guests and how people access us,” said Del Sanders, a representative from the Holiday Inn located in the southwest quadrant. “We’re concerned about traffic flow and about pedestrian traffic too.”
Shucet briefed the group on the history of the Route 29 Solutions panel, which was first convened in March 2014 to find alternatives to the Western Bypass. The Federal Highway Administration had indicated a month earlier it would not support an environmental clearance for that project.
“At that time, we had a project that had been around for a long time that had gone away,” Shucet said. “We had a couple of hundred millions of dollars that we were offered to use.”
Those projects turned into the Rio Road project, a widening of U.S. 29, the Best Buy ramp, Hillsdale Drive Extended and Berkmar Drive Extended.
The goal is to complete the small-area plan by the end of September and the transportation plan by next summer.
“This is a fast-moving process,” said Chip Boyles, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “Having only been in Charlottesville for a short while, I do know you all have a tendency to take a lot of time with planning.”
The panel will meet every two weeks and can be viewed live on VDOT’s website. Two public meetings will be held to gather input from the community. Some warned that that might not be sufficient.
“Two public meetings is not going to be enough for Charlottesville,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin.